The wordsmith who is so versatile that they can approach poetry, music, plays and novels with equal quality and success is rare. Yet, Kate Tempest has that ability. For those not aware of her achievements they are many. She is a Mercury Music Prize nominee, Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry winner and so much more. The Bricks that Built the Houses is her first novel and was recently released, published by Bloomsbury.
The novel tells the story of a range of inter-connected characters particularly Harry, Becky and Pete. It takes an unusual form of starting with an event and then moving one year previous before jumping one year ahead.
The book is written in language which will date it to a particular period in history through its references to particular technologies and so on. Yet, I doubt it will date as a book because it is a really good read.
As I read it I was prepared to be let down by it but I wasn’t. It was well written and as with so much of Tempest’s work has an almost ethnographic quality to it.
There is sex, violence and drugs crime in this book – but none of it gratuitous. There is also love and pure ambition within it. This book through its portrayal of the drugs world, the low level sex workers world, the alcoholic’s world and the suburban couple who came together through an affair are all showing the complexities of situations which many people face.
In this book nobody can be seen as pure and blameless everybody has something going on which makes them very human and fallible. Yet, in their own way they are all really likeable.
There are descriptions of the reality of bisexuality and lesbianism, gender fluidity and straight relationships mixed in with accounts of shattered dreams and dead end jobs.
It might all sound a bit grim and sensational but the point is it isn’t overall. This book describes much of the world we live in, but just don’t recognise being there around us. It describes the world that many of our lives touch upon in one form or another but we don’t know we encounter because we don’t know much of the detail of each other’s lives.
If you want satisfactory rounded endings this may not be the book for you because like so much of life it doesn’t end neatly. In many ways you seem to just stop observing it and wander away, like you’re at the end of an ethnographic project not knowing what’s going to happen in the future.
Did I enjoy reading it? Very much so. It was the sort of book which saw itself wandering around with me for a few days as I grabbed a few pages here and a few pages there in coffee shops, trains, on the sofa and in the common room where I live. It looks like a long book but isn’t really. I devoured it in 4 days and will be more than ready to read a follow up when and if one comes.