Another “challenge” from New Writing North with this month’s choice, poet Jacob Polley’s first foray into novel-writing, Talk of the Town.
An off-putting cover and the realisation, on the first page, that this was another novel written entirely in dialect were just too much for some members. Two book group stalwarts failed to get through it and said the problem of wading through the dialect was the main issue. It probably wasn’t helped by the all-too-recent memories of Ross Raisin’s God’s Own Country, which employed a similar device. Polley’s decision not to use punctuation to mark out the dialogue also irritated some readers, although others said they got used to it.
Those of us who did make it to the end, however, were surprised by a numberof very impressive elements to the book. The first was Polley’s poetic language – not surprising, given his literary background, but often a joy to read in the text. Here’s quite a nice example: “I reckon his grey eyes can see clean through us, as if me face is shaller watter with me lie trapped in it, flickin its tail.” (P. 250).
This poetic language, however, sparked an interesting discussion about whether it was authentic for the voice of the 16-year-old narrator. We couldn’t all agree on this. For some, it was hard to believe that Chris would use such lovely phrases and imagery and this interfered with our ability to see him as a real character. Others, however, felt the use of the poetic imagery was in fact a deliberate distancing ploy by the author; also that Chris was in fact a lot more sensitive a soul than he tried to make out to his peers and therefore this use of language was not entirely out of character.
Most of us were taken along by the plot, which we found gripping, although there were mixed feelings about whether we cared what happened to Chris, Arthur and Gill (who we felt was a great character but under-used!). Personally I did want Chris to be okay – although the ending for Arthur was nicely ambiguous.
We also thought it gave a convincing portrayal of bored, disaffected young people and those groups who operate on the outside edge of society and the law. The use of landscape helped – waste ground, arcades, telephone boxes etc all added to the bleakness and the sense of time (1986). It made for an uncomfortable read but most of us thought it had much to commend it and that it was a very promising first novel.
It was great this month to welcome two new members – and also Catriona from New Writing North who dropped in to chat about the Read Regional project. Thanks again to Kim at Doolally’s for her top-notch bakes!
I always ask members what else they’ve been reading because their recommendations are often so interesting and inspiring. This month was no exception!
Margaret suggested Kate Atkinson’s When Will There Be Good News, which she says is very different to the writer’s earlier works. Mike enjoyed Alasdair Gray’s modern classic Lanark, while Keith has just re-read Robert Graves’ Goodbye To All That, which he says gives him new insights every time he picks it up. Maisie suggested Washington journalist David Boling’s Guernica and there was also praise for Ian Rankin’s new detective novel The Complaints, featuring a new detective character to rival the popular Rebus.
Finally – don’t forget next month’s meeting when we’ll play host to Scottish-based author Sally Hinchcliffe, who’ll give a short talk on her work and answer our questions.
Next meeting: Tuesday 3rd November, 6.30pm at Doolally’s on Marygate, Berwick upon Tweed. Out of a Clear Sky by Sally Hinchcliffe.