STORM WARNING: Kate Tempest’s ‘The Bricks That Built The Houses’ is out now via Bloomsbury/Circus
When I came across a review copy of Kate Tempest’s debut novel in my local second hand bookshop I was both happy and nervous. I’ve long sung the praises of this South London poet having been mesmerised by the riveting delivery of her one woman play ‘Brand New Ancients’. Her self published book of poetry/CD – Everything Speaks In It’s Own Way – is little gem and the ‘Mouse In The Lion’s Hair’ is a poem that I love to bits. I am less of a fan of the Mercury nominated LP, ‘Everybody Down’, which she dropped via Ninja Tunes, but that’s just my finely tuned – sometimes wrong – musical sensibilities kicking in. ‘Everybody Down’ definitely has it’s moments and, in reality, I should be giving thanks that the LP and the live gigs have carried her words to audiences who would never have handed over a few quid to check a poetry reading.
‘The Brick That Built The Houses’ is modern day tale and reading it while the increasingly rancid BREXIT campaign gathered momentum, fuelled by lies and divisive racist rhetoric and imagery (I shall not forget that Enoch Powell inspired UKIP Poster!) threw me back on my own roots. Ironically, the referendum which now instructs the Tory Government to get us out of Europe hinged on the votes of the people in those forgotten, marginalised former industrial working class heartlands of Britain. It was a cry of FUCK YOU! to the powers that be – whoever you are – and that’s where Kate’s book takes us. South London is not Barnsley but in this divided land we do not have to go far to find poverty and a spirit diminishing sense of daily disillusionment where drinkin’, smokin’, snortin’ and poppin’ whatever is just how it stays.’The Brick That Built The Houses’ drops us into a fraught but tender and revealing encounter between two families somewhere around SE13… Lewisham-Deptford runnings… and it’s focussed on the lives and dreams of two women in their early twenties, who sail below the radar, operating in dangerous subterranean worlds that respectively deal with sex and drugs.
A dancer and a dealer, despite being careful, clever and discreet, get ensnared by a twist of fate and are tugged reluctantly into a potentially deadly spiral of events. As a regular thriller reader (Moseley, Pelecanos, Hiassen et al) I was curious as to how Kate’s poetic flow would transfer into a 400 page novel. Initially, I wasn’t sure. I stopped reading in fits and starts on buses and tubes and opted to notch up a bunch of pages in one sitting. It paid off. I was drawn into the story which grows as you empathise with its characters, with their frustrations, fears and intuitive search for something better than the mundane daily existence of those around them. As I read I could feel her flow, her unique sense of rhythm which springs from her choice of words. Kate Tempest gives voice to those who have no voice in the ofter brutal inner cities of this nation and for that we are all better off. Support your local visionary.