Friday, April 28, 2017

Review: "The Bricks That Built the Houses" by Kate Tempest

The Bricks That Built the Houses, the debut novel from British poet and rap artist Kate Tempest is nothing short of a deeply human prose pome that tries it’s hardest to encompass the feelings and thoughts of every character on the page. It is a book without heroes or villains, good people or bad people or victims and victimizers. It tries and succeeds (most of the time) in crafting this multi-layered narrative of two people who find in each other a chance at happiness and fulfilling their dreams, all in one go, if only they were brave enough. But besides that, Tempest also is willing to go into the minds of side characters and explain their complex histories that are at times even more fascinating than the story in the present world. There is a plot development way late in the story that I don’t think works as well as it would in a pure thriller, but that doesn’t take away from the intense feelings you have for everyone you come across in this book, and feel equal amounts of adulation and sadness when they’re plans succeed or fail. The focus of this book is on the lives and dreams of two women, who, as the book opens up, are in a speeding car driven by Leon with a bag full of stolen drug money. After that, we meet Becky, the consummate dreamer. She works as an underpaid PA on music videos she really should be choreographing, deals with talentless, prima donna directors and wonders constantly why, if she graduated at the head of her dance class, she is still struggling for any kind of recognition at this stage in her life. Harriet, or Harry to her friends, is a high level drug dealer who tends to only deal with rich clients. At a party, she meets Becky. While the word is not mentioned at any time in the book, Harry has been a lesbian all her life, and she falls immediately in love with Becky, whose feelings for her take a little more time to blossom. They’re paths intersect in coincidental ways: Becky starts dating Harry’s sad sack brother Pete without knowing he is related to Harry, and Harry’s drug trade has ties to Becky’s uncles and their café. As we come to the climactic scene that leads the characters to that speeding car, we also, as I said, learn a bit of history as well. We learn about Becky’s father, a political figure whose career ended in disgrace. We learn about Harry and Pete’s mom and her new boyfriend, David, himself a man with dreams, albeit of the quaint variety. We even learn of the history of the café with ties to crime, and how it came about over a mistaken identity and a snap decision during WWII. Like I said, the plot device at the end is exactly that: it moves things forward and adds unneeded drama to an already fascinating story, but that is practically a nitpick for me, and something that shouldn’t distract you from this deeply optimistic and deeply moving portrait of real, flesh and blood people.  
Rating: 5/5

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