Friday, 17 July 2009

Talk of the Town by Jacob Polley

I went to one of Jacob's book launch events to hear him read this and talk about it before I opened the book. I love his poetry - recently featured in ads for the BBC's poetry season programmes - so I was really interested to see how he'd tackle the novel. I don't know whether I'm disappointed or not. I found the novel uneven - very slow to start, but picking up pace towards the last third of the book. The 'voice' of the first-person narrator wasn't always consistent either in the way he spoke, or in what it revealed of his character. The dialect sometimes slipped between local idiom and southern english (as Jacob's own voice does), and sometimes the reader could hear the voice of the mature poet coming through that of the 14 year old boy. There were descriptions and images that didn't seem in keeping with the mind-set of the young narrator. But these are quibbles. The achievement of writing a whole first-person novel in dialect (Cumbrian at that) is amazing.

Talk of the Town is a Quest novel - Chris's quest to find his missing friend Arthur, but also to find answers to his own questions about himself and his place in the order of things. There's real violence and danger at the heart of this book and Jacob Polley makes us care enough about the hero to want him to emerge intact. It's initially hard to read, but worth persevering. It has a tight plot and the ending is much better than the beginning. He captures perfectly the tribal world of teenage boys, where you have to walk down the road in just the right way (not too nonchalantly, or too aggressively, and definitely not timidly!) in order to escape being beaten; as well as the magnetic attractions of violence and petty crime that masquerade as rites of passage.

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