Birmingham Literature Festival: Spring Edition

Luke Kennard reading from 'The Transition' 

Luke Kennard reading from 'The Transition' 

Luke Kennard is mercurial.

The man talks at a million miles an hour and his synapses spark at an alarming rate.

Having been dubbed an 'overachieving poet' (The Guardian, for youngest Forward Prize recipient etc etc) he has just published his debut novel The Transition - a near-future dystopia tackling the housing crisis.

He talked about it on the opening day of Birmingham Literature Festival and the conversation was pacy and revelatory, especially on the pressing issue (for writers, anyway) of how to approach dystopia when living in one.

His book should be discussed more widely. It takes on capitalism, home ownership, and the plight of a generation sorely in need of solutions.

Of course, being a novel of the times, there are no solutions, but along the way Kennard combines humour and pathos to carve out a striking exploration of our current preoccupations.

It's also a touching love story.

Do read 'The Transition' if you want a fresh take on a rapidly expanding genre.

What I'm Reading #2

Here's my second book review of 2017, and it's one I wanted to read ages ago, but you know how it is.

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People have been saying All That Man Is by David Szalay isn't really a novel. It totally is, and I say that as a writer and lover of short stories, so it would have been easy for me to respond to this as a collection.

All That Man Is forms a series of nine narratives, at first seemingly unrelated. And yet it holds together as a single, unified work because it lives up to its title. It becomes, as we move through what unfolds as the 'nine ages of man', a cohesive novel about what it is to be male in today's world.

This is a dispassionate unpicking of 21st century male angst. It charts man from late teens to old age, across Europe and yet within a relatively narrow timeframe.

The protagonists all share intrinsic qualities and situations - crisis, uncertainty, displacement. There is much mulling over of expectations, both societal and personal, and inner tensions; lost dreams, lost loves, shaky identity and thwarted ambition.

We meet a student, a stoner, a bodyguard, an academic, a tabloid journalist, an estate agent, a dropout, a billionaire and a government adviser.

Some are more likeable than others but all are sympathetic, and this is Szalay's great gift. He is compassionate rather than caustic. His humour is wryly observed, his pathos effortless.

And by the end, with a nicely subtle circularity woven in, I felt I had followed one man, not nine. So clever.

VERDICT

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I want to buy this book for all my male friends, my ex boyfriends, my uncles and my son.

I came away from this book acutely aware of how I write men myself. I would never presume to do as good a job as someone on the Booker shortlist, but I aim for the same things: crisis, insight, compassion.

Mr Szalay, I salute you.