It may be logical to assume that the more books a person reads, the less daunting it is to launch yourself into the unknown from time to time. Since you read so much anyway what’s the harm if you stumble across a dud every so often? I, however, tend to find it all too easy to shimmy on back to old faithful; be that safe authors, genres or even the more predictable publishing houses.
If I am in one of my comfortable ‘ruts’ I do (if I can muster up the energy) deliberately throw myself a potential challenge. Although this approach can sometimes end disastrously (i.e. my Salman Rushdie experience last year) if I’m lucky I find myself on a glorious adventure with an exciting new author. Happily for me, A is for Angelica; debut novel by Sheffield author Iain Broome, falls firmly into the latter category.
In a delicious collaboration with indie publisher Legend Press and fellow Northern/Midlands artist Jonathan Wilkinson (striking front cover), Broome, living the dream of many post-grads before him, has managed to create a world that has all the quirk and British charm promised on the compelling blurb … and then some.
‘My life is different now. I don’t go to work. I don’t have an office. I stay at home, hide behind the curtains and make notes. I wait for something to happen.’
Gordon Kingdom lives in Cressington Vale, a perfectly suburban, uncontroversial and terribly middle class street whose various characters waltz through their daily routines and, in the main, lead highly predictable lives. Apart, perhaps, from Benny the boy across the road, who between the hours of 1 and 2am every morning settles down in his bedroom to paint with his eyes closed. We know this because, whilst caring for his seriously ill wife Georgina, Gordon spends his days peeping around his curtains and making detailed notes on his neighbours’ habits. Using his meticulously organised files on people to bring order to a life thrown into complete chaos by his wife’s second stroke, Gordon is a narrator of many colours; sometimes pitiable, often unwittingly amusing as he details the life and times of their aging dog Kipling, lonely bachelor Don Donald and who could forget A, for Angelica. An attractive, foul-mouthed and multi-coloured new friend who inadvertently pushes Gordon’s secretive life in an entirely new direction.
It is a wonderful thing to invest yourself in a novel without any preconceptions, which, despite our best efforts, inevitably colour our opinions. I found the domesticity and sheer ‘Britishness’ of Broome’s surprisingly dark story to be incredibly comforting (a little like Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand) and I found myself feeling highly protective of Gordon and his little world, where it could be all too easy to criticise his actions. Broome’s suburbia is awash with charming, unique characters and I found his subtlety and balance between the comedic and tragic aspects of the book to be quite astonishing considering the fact that this is, after all, his debut novel. Although I try and avoid making too many grandiose statements…could we perhaps have another Mark Haddon on our hands?
I’m sure there’s a small part of all desperate book bloggers out there who dream of publishing their own novel one day and, most importantly, it being worth the paper it’s printed on. Perhaps that MA in creative writing might be worth the time and money after all?
This book surpassed my expectations and I will be pushing it on the boyfriend immediately. I will also (*touch wood*) be rather smug in five years’ time when Iain Broome is hot property and I will know I was there from the very beginning…