Review: ‘The Book of Newcastle’

By

Newcastle as a city represents a certain feeling, though hard to put into words. Like many cities, there is an underlying emotion to it, an atmosphere perhaps, fuelled by its history, economy, and the people that make up the city. Newcastle stands as a Northern Powerhouse, a place of transformation and innovation, as well as of struggle and resilience. This collection of short stories successfully embodies this ineffable undercurrent in 10 works of short prose. “A City in Short Fiction”, as indeed the series names itself.

Newcastle stands as a Northern Powerhouse, a place of transformation and innovation

The tales are wide- reaching in scope. Calling from Newcastle by Julia Darling starts the anthology with a subtly moving and hard-hitting tale of a woman working in a call centre, one of the anthology’s finest. Indeed, to me, some stories are markedly stronger than others.

Another of my personal highlights was Magpies (Angela Readman), a story of a mother, grappling to protect her teenage son in a world increasingly hostile and dangerous, filled with artistically drawn up metaphors and heart-wrenching emotion.

J.A. Mensah’s Thunder Thursday on Pemberton Grove also stood out also as a clever split-narrative tale where the people’s lives on one street interlope and digress, until the stormy finale.

Blood Brothers (Jessica Andrews) is another poignantly excellent story, of two young girls who are best friends and whose lives gradually pull them apart. It is a tale of growing up, of self-discovery and of pain.

That, indeed, is a thing that all the stories have in common: pain. They are mostly concerned with the tragic. There are tales of grief, of destruction, of instability, of loneliness and an overarching darkness ebbs and flows between each story. These story-tellers do not fear the darkness but embrace it. They tell stories that quake the reader to their very core, and are, in that sense, oddly comforting. They shine a light through the darkness of the everyday and the tragic.

These story-tellers do not fear the darkness but embrace it

As I have said, I had personal favourites, but these will not be the same for each reader. The beauty of this collection is that it uses artistically skilful prose and clever imagery or metaphor in order to convey particular moments in life and, literary-wise, no story is weak. Each story feels personal and tangible. Some may speak to you more clearly than others, but all are worth a read.

This collection has scouted out some of the finest story-tellers of the region, and strung their prose together. The book feels easy to read, the stories flowing together well. The images they create are distinct. A man, faced with his own death, investing in a plot at a beautiful graveyard, only to realise upon return that it is, in reality, decrepit and uncared-for (The Here and Now, by Margaret Wilkinson).

A man running desperately, hoping he can escape his beloved mother’s death if only he can keep running (Ekow on Town Moor, by Degna Stone). A young boy, curious to explore, climbing into the attics that run from house to house on his street, only to discover his neighbour’s heart-break (Loftboy, by Chrissie Glazebrook).

In this world of change and ever-increasing pace, I would recommend you to read this charmingly moving collection of stories

In this world of change and ever-increasing pace, I would recommend you to read this charmingly moving collection of stories, to allow yourself to bask in the emotion coursing through these pages. This anthology, above all else, encourages us to feel pathos for others, which is something we really ought to endeavour to do in a world so easily void of feeling. Perhaps, one of these stories will stick with you for a long time after you close the book.

Photograph: Unsplash by Devon Saccente

One thought on “Review: ‘The Book of Newcastle’

  • Regrettably two of these authors are no longer with us: Julia Darling (1956-2005) and Chrissie Glazebrook (1945-2007). I knew them both. It’s good that their work continues to be remembered in this collection.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.