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6 Notts Books You Need To Read This Month

21 March 18 words: Write Lion

Back in January, we celebrated Nottingham’s literary prowess with a whole issue dedicated to the wordy goods that’ve come out of the city and its edges. In the same breath, together with UNESCO City of Literature, we asked your lot to review your favourite Nottingham books in a competition to win book tokens and a feature in this here rag.

The winners of said competition were Sue Barsby and Melanie Jane, the top two reviews on this here page. Check ‘em out in all their critiquing mastery, and remember: if you’re from Notts and want to get your pages poked, drop us a line on [email protected]

What Lies in the Dark
CM Thompson
£8.99, Hookline Books
As tempting as it is to try and place a book by a local author within this area, I’m glad What Lies in the Dark is set in an anonymous city rather than Nottingham. The subject matter – a serial killer targeting young women – could make me think twice about going out. Here, the anonymity of the city fits with the book which is a distant piece of writing. We rarely get inside anyone’s head. The investigating police officers, Victoria Bullrush and Aaron Fletcher, are driven by exhaustion rather than any other motivating factors and, while this seems accurate, I would have liked to learn more about them.

Nevertheless, this is a compelling story. The victims are all found with a number carved in their hands. Do the numbers mean anything? Could there be more bodies? There is no pattern to his targets, no clues to his identity. It’s a mystery. What Lies... shows us the everyday nature of death, the tragedy that could be around the corner, serial killer or not, and how differently we can all be when faced with the death of our loved ones. It’s a promising debut and I look forward to reading Thompson’s forthcoming book, Who Killed Anne-Marie? Sue Barsby

Harris’s Requiem
Stanley Middleton
£8.99, Windmill Books
1960, a year of the provincial novel. Lawrence and Sillitoe films hit the cinema, the Chatterley trial permits its publication, and Harris’s Requiem is released. Set in Nottingham in all but name, we follow Thomas Harris who, like his creator Stanley Middleton, works as a schoolmaster. Harris navigates an unpredictable plot of personal highs and lows as he tries to gain recognition as a composer. “I’m Thomas Harris I am. I’m somebody,” he wants to shout, but Harris also possesses the self-doubt that curses many a creative mind.

Combative, outspoken and not one to curry favour, Harris engages in a number of prickly encounters in a novel brimming with middle-class conflict and astutely-drawn anxieties. The Nottingham dialect and realistic humour have aged well, and the authentic sense of time and place make for a sixties that’s not yet swinging. Readers with a deep knowledge of classical music will delight in the detail while others may feel they’re missing out. In 1974, Middleton won the Booker prize for Holiday but, of his 44 novels, it’s Harris’s Requiem that was his personal favourite. It might just be yours, too. Melanie Jane

Loving the Life Less Lived
Gail Marie Mitchell
£9.99, RedDoor Publishing
It’s been said that dealing with anxiety is like trying to memorise all of the conversations being had in a restaurant. In contemporary culture, the sheer volume of work regarding anxiety, and the ways we deal with it, in itself is a cause of intense frustration. But Loving the Life Less Lived is a welcome breath of fresh air. Gail Marie Mitchell recounts, through troubling experiences and beautiful lessons learned, how we are all in this together. To encourage us along the way, each chapter contains a “toolbox” of helpful and practical aids – from mindfulness to music – that we can employ in our daily lives. While these are not “one size fits all”, the author observes that healing will come from sharing our thoughts and heartfelt stories with one another and slowly but surely, we will gather the collective strength to lift the weight of this universal affliction. Patrick Lonergan

Shtetl Love Song
Grigory Kanovich
£14, Noir Press
The characters in Grigory Kanovich’s autobiographical Shtetl Love Song are so sharp, nuanced and well-formed, it becomes easy to forget that they’re not purely well-thought figments of the author’s imagination; they are real figures from Kanovich’s own remarkable past. Book One, set prior to Grigory’s birth, focuses on life in the Lithuanian Jewish shtetl of Jonava. The narrative is lovingly anchored on the powerful matriarchal figures of both Kanovich’s mother and his paternal grandmother, and the personal and cultural struggles they encounter. Book Two details Kanovich’s childhood which, at age twelve, saw him and his parents flee to Russia, escaping persecution and genocide. Honouring the past, and commemorating those who have passed away, is central to the novel's enduring wisdom. Memory is, as Kanovich says, “the shared roof under which all of us settle.” Shtetl Love Song is not only an astonishing read, it is a necessary one. Chloé Campbell

The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness
Graham Caveney
£14.99, Picador
Graham Caveney has previously authored books on William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, but this latest effort is quite different. Instead of writing about the lives of others, Caveney has finally turned the spotlight onto himself, and to the darkest skeletons in his closet. Named after a song by relatively obscure American band The Feelies, this is a deeply personal memoir about a young man growing up in the North of England and being abused by a man who was his teacher, mentor and priest. It’s a tale of a childhood confused, and at times lost, because of the interference of a sexual predator. Despite the obvious gravitas and horror of the subject, Caveney manages to also bring pathos and levity with a quick turn of wit, chapters beginning with pop culture quotes – usually alternating with Kafka – and a truly great use of collective nouns. He never makes light of the abuse, but instead balances it with a poignant innocence and compelling charm. Jared Wilson

Anne Goodwin
£8.99, Inspired Quill
When Steve returns home after years of travelling, he finally decides to settle down after a chance meeting with the vivacious Liesel. Domestic bliss is soon shattered however, when Liesel demands something Steve is not ready to give: a child. Steve, unable to bear the thought of losing Liesel, makes a decision that plunges the relationship into darkness and obsession. To quote the blurb, “it would be a shame not to make use of the cellar…” The premise of this book is truly exciting; reminiscent of Emma Donoghue’s Room, the novel offers to explore the life of a captive, while examining what it takes for a person to succumb to such chilling cruelty. Underneath, however, is a novel that promises much but delivers little. With unsympathetic characters and plot twists that end up more confusing than thrilling, Underneath offers a fascinating concept that would have benefited from a tighter execution. Anna Murphy

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