From the first to the last, Adjei-Brenyah’s ‘Friday Black’ collection of short stories holds rank among some of the most visually-thrilling, inflammatory and enriching ones I’ve ever read. It’s a provoking and daring look at the lives and experiences of black men and women today and every day before, wrapped up in deliciously clever language.
I’m little. Only two years or so. I must be less than three years old, because she’s still alive. I’m outside, somewhere. I’m surrounded by people - large, looming faces that I don’t recognise. I tip my head over the arms that hold me to look around. There’s a beautiful one, two old ones, a big one, a really big one, a furry one, and there’s her.
I had SUCH high hopes for this novel. The premise sounded great. The world has ended in nuclear war? YES PLEASE. Survivors are holed up in a hotel, and a body turns up? HELLA POIROT, GIMME. The race is on to find the killer? I’M THERE. The cover and the blurb activated that little part of my brain which said ‘ooooh’ and I’d plonked it in my basket during the final four seconds of waiting in line at Waterstones. A choice I regretted almost immediately after reading the first few chapters.
When he died, a big part of Peter thought the rest of the world would too. He’d thought about how it might happen, many times. Not the way he’d die - that seemed fairly obvious to him - but how the world would cease after he was no longer there to watch it. Would the earth disappear with a bubble-wrap ‘pop’ at the moment his main artery finally clogged? Would the colors in the world start to drain as his vision swam? Would the roads, forests and oceans, some that he’d travelled across and some that he’d only read about, start to fold up on themselves like giant monoliths in the sky as his own heart constricted and failed in his chest? Most importantly, would anyone know why it was happening?
The story centres around two young people, Connell and Marianne - both relatably strange in their own unique way - and follows them as they grow up, at times intertwined, and at times apart.
This book is a beautifully crafted, bright and deep novel which addresses some really heavy subjects: toxic masculinity, fear, abuse, protection and growing up. And yet, it manages to deliver its lessons on the sly, distracting the reader with perilous plot and beautiful imagery until you hit the sucker-punch ending.
The air was so hot that it hovered around her nostrils even as she walked. Somehow the air outside felt warmer than the hot blood running through her veins, and it made Judy uncomfortable. There hadn’t been a single breeze between her house and the town hall which had given her any release from this feeling, and her skin was already prickling at the thought of pushing open the door and feeling the cool air that only a place with stone walls 10 feet thick could have on this summer day.
The Whitby Witches is a book about courage, history and magic. Two orphans are suddenly re-routed to Whitby to stay with Miss Boston - a spritely 90-something year old who walks up the famous 199 steps every day to keep her mind and body active. She needs this sharpness in spades as her friends start to die mysteriously, and the town that she knows and loves starts to crumble under a dark force.
In the spirit of being honest, this isn't a new piece. It's something I wrote a few years ago when I was not okay. It was built on iambic heptameter (but I was loose with it), and it was written to try to describe the constant feeling I had where I felt like I was lying in the gutter and watching everyone else enjoy their lives, and I felt like no-one would be able to help me.
Ghost Wall is a highly acclaimed, multiple prize-winning novel that’s been described as a ‘short, sharp shock that closes around you like a vice as you read it’. It’s a story about a modern family reliving the Iron Age; about family, about abusive situations, about friendship. But for me, it fell far short of the dazzling, ‘burnished gem’ of a book that I’d been promised.