Author: Kate Tempest
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
Many of you reading this will have come across Kate Tempest’s name before in some form. Hailing from London, she’s a poet, a playwright, a rapper, and now a novelist. Her most notable achievements to date include winning the Ted Hughes Award for her modern-day epic poem Brand New Ancients, and garnering a Mercury Prize nomination for her 2014 debut album Everybody Down. Okay, I’m suitably impressed.
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The Bricks that Built the Houses serves as a companion to Everybody Down, with each chapter mirroring a track on the album, or vice vera. It’s a story of gritty South London, where Tempest grew up, and the people who live there. The novel opens with Leon, Becky, and Harry in a car, leaving town, accompanied by a suitcase full of money. We don’t know what has proceeded this flight, but we do know that all three are anxious and tightly-wound, running from something. Tempest then takes us back a year, delving into their lives and those of the people around them. It’s a white-knuckle read in which we know the destination, but not the journey.
Tempest is a skilled lyricist, deftly capturing moments and emotions, and this carries over to her prose. I found myself catching on certain sentences, compelled to read them again: “Her mouth is the funnel of a gramophone, her chest a spinning vinyl. The words are slow; they come out steeped in mud.” I wondered, however, if at times the writing was too metaphor-laden, preoccupied with drawing poetic comparisons rather than with the story itself. Despite this, it was a gripping read, transporting me right into the inner lives of the characters and their predicaments. I found myself not wanting to be let go. For a first novel this feels like a great achievement. Tempest is now firmly placed as a literary force and she appears to only be gaining momentum.