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Confetti - Your Future

Book Reviews: December 2013 - January 2014

20 December 13 words: LeftLion
The foundation of Stilton, life in a large country parish, the revolt of the Luddites and more
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Stilton Cheese: A History
Trevor Hickman
£12.99, Amberley

Leicester may be famous for having the worst one-way system in Britain and unearthing the occasional king under a car park, but it’s also home to the cheese that smells like a teenager’s cum sock. In this comprehensive and fascinating chronological story we learn about the key events and prominent characters that have shaped this English delicacy. Stilton becomes as veiny as Alex Ferguson’s nose through natural maturity but as Frances Pawlett discovered, you can speed up this process and develop the mould by inserting knitting needles into the sides. Pawlett was a tough old boot who helped standardise the process and fob off imitators. As a lowly tenant farmer, she refused to be bullied by wealthy male competitors. She died at 89 on Xmas Eve, 1808. Her gravestone reads: “remember to die”. It’s hard to think of a feta example of girl power. James Walker
Amberley Books Website

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Lowdham, Caythorpe and Gunthorpe Through Time
L. L. H. Society
£14.99, Amberely

Life in a large country parish comprising three separate villages is going to appeal to a very niche audience. The fact that nothing really exciting has happened to any of them is revealed in the opening page when a paragraph is dedicated to a Grade B prison on the outskirts of Lowdham, which was once home to the first open Borstal in the world. Yowzers. The ominously named Red Lane may refer to the Roman road where blood was spilled during the Civil War, except it’s most likely named as such due to the red clay that’s prevalent in the area. Yet the factors responsible for the current banality are a familiar narrative. Gunthorpe once thrived on agriculture and framework knitting but the community was killed off with the advent of railway in the 1840s which saw a deluge head to the city for the bright lights. If flickering screens are modernity’s bright lights and the internet is the modern railway, I feel sorry for the poor bugger given the job of recording life here in 2050. James Jogger
Amberley Books Website

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Christy Fearn
£10, Open Books

When stockinger Robert Molyneux is caught after a frame breaking episode in Regency Nottingham, he is also falsely accused of murder. Only when Lizzie, his sister, teams up with Lord Byron, does it seem possible to save Robert from the gallows. The government’s attitude to the population of the time is explored in the course of the novel and the issues raised sometimes resonate with today’s economic environment. Regency’s sexual politics are also prominent in several vivid scenes. The novel has been meticulously researched and this is something the writing sometimes wears too much on its sleeve. However, the story highlights a little-known chapter of Nottingham history and the interwoven fictional elements keep the plot moving along. This is Christy Fearn’s debut novel, and given the many possibilities opened up by the story, this may not be the last time we hear of the Molyneuxs. Elaine Aldred
Open Books Website

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Colin Bacon
£10.99, Quartet Books
Colin Bacon’s Vivian and I – a piecing together of the life of Withnail inspiration Vivian Mackerrell – fell somewhere between memoir and reportage. With Spibey, he proves equally adept as a novelist. The title is the surname of the three siblings whose stories the narrative switches between: Ellie, whose loveless marriage is complicated by the reappearance of an old flame; Albert, who rushes to sign up only to be sent to Ireland to help quell the Easter Rising rather than getting a crack at the Jerries; and free-thinking Thomas, who charts a peripatetic course through the Midlands, one step ahead of his call-up papers. Bacon achieves a palpable evocation of time and place, and imbues his characters with flawed but recognisable personalities. An occasional tendency to slow the pace with chunks of exposition is evident, but Spibey remains a focused, intelligent and satisfying work. Neil Fulwood
Quartet Books Website

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A Hook In The Milk Shed
Robert Etty
£9, Shoestring Press
Robert Etty’s new collection of poetry is firmly rooted in the countryside and rural life of Lincolnshire. He sketches vignettes of life amid the country paths, wintry fields and the twitching curtains of villages where everyone knows everyone else’s business, only too happy to hear it muttered to them over a garden fence as friendly gossip. Rural scenes and village life aren’t the only subjects. Etty writes about Cezanne, Rembrandt, and sheep holding up traffic on the M40 as well as the quiet cemeteries and echoing family histories that nestle side by side between the dry stone walls of a village. It’s in these miniature tragedies and pastoral narratives that his insights feel most keen, always selecting the telling detail of a life lived entirely within ten square miles, picked out with a masterly eye. Robin Lewis
Shoestring Press Website

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Kinda Keats
Deborah Tyler-Bennett
£9, Shoestring Press
The poems in Kinda Keats were inspired by Deborah Tyler-Bennett’s residency at Keats House. Although each poem is related to Keats, his poetry and his life in some way, they roam through history to include modern-day toddlers and tourists; Maenads, Ray Davies (hence the title, derived from Kinda Kinks) and even Eric Morecambe. As always, Tyler-Bennett’s words are pared back right to the skin, and then a little further to expose the rawness of life and love, the pulsing immediacy of time and place. She skillfully creates sketches that contain so much detail you have to read the poems again and again to unearth everything contained within, and it is a pleasure to do so. My particular favourite is Still Life with Radical Spirits, which is populated with card players who are anything but still, although they may not be alive. A pamphlet I will certainly return to. Pippa Hennessy
Shoestring Press Website

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West North East
Matthew Clegg
£12, Longbarrow Press

Traversing urban and suburban territories and hinterlands is a means of escape and release in Clegg’s first full-length collection, observing post-industrial landscapes in loaded detail while wrestling with internal dialogues of alienation both personal and universal. Clegg’s psychogeographical poems are mainly located in West Yorkshire, Sheffield and the East Coast, but mirror the wider contemporary experience of everyday inner-city life. In The Vantage, the impact our surroundings can have on us underscores the bittersweet narrative of a father setting out on foot with his young child to a place where “the road cuts/over the river”…”it’s/worth it for the off-chance of seeing him/slow-step the ebb and flow with such grace./My kid is going to know what a heron is.” Divided into three parts – Fugue, Edgelands, and Chinese Lanterns – West North East addresses themes of “crisis, journey and imaginative crossing” under the title of an impossible compass direction, but the author clearly knows where he’s heading. Aly Stoneman
Longbarrow Press Website

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