Tag Archives: Your Fault

Your Fault by Andrew Cowan: A boy’s life

Cover imageFour things attracted me to Andrew Cowan’s Your Fault: its working class, ‘60s setting; its unusual structure; its length and its publisher, Salt Publishing whose list is never anything but interesting. Set in one of those new towns beloved by British town planners of the mid-twentieth century, Cowan’s novella has fifty-five-year-old Peter tell his story to himself, from his first memory in 1962 to the day his childhood ended.

Peter was born on the first day of the new decade. His father is a Scot, an ex-soldier working as a fitter at the steelworks where most of the town’s men are employed. He’s much older that Peter’s mother, forty-one to her seventeen when they first met on Malta where he was stationed. Peter knows Dolly is unhappy, that she sees other men and that she feels trapped in a stifling routine of housework and childcare. His parents rows are a constant and distressing soundtrack to his childhood. Sometimes, Dolly disappears leaving him alone with his little sister, Lorraine. Peter goes to school, makes friends, suffers the usual torments of embarrassment when he gets things wrong and is horrified when an outbreak of sibling rivalry goes too far. Eleven years after Peter’s first memory, his and Lorraine’s childhood ends with a shocking discovery by her, leaving him with a longing to step in and change both their stories.

Cowan unfolds Peter’s story through vivid snapshots of childhood memories, seen from the vantage point of the same age his father was when he died. Gaps are gradually filled as the years progress, small details slipped in making clear that this is not a happy household. Cowan is the master of show not tell, leaving much to the reader to infer. His characters are sharply observed – Dolly’s frustration at being tied to a baby and a toddler is perfectly caught, Peter’s conviction that she exists only for him brilliantly conveyed. Period detail summons up the ‘60s and ’70s beautifully, from the housewives’ Tupperware party, family holidays at Butlin’s and the Tufty Club joined by children who’d learned the rules of road-crossing, to the lives of women, curtailed by housewifery and childcare, their misery medicated with tranquilisers. All this is communicated through the young Peter’s eyes as his fifty-five-year-old self struggles with his past. Hard not to wonder if this is a slice of autofiction given that Cowan was brought up in Corby, a ‘60s new town with a steelworks at its heart, which makes its ending all the more poignant.

Books to Look Out for in May 2019: Part One

Cover imageApril was a wee bit light on new titles for me, making up for it with a plethora of paperbacks to keep an eye on. In contrast May sees me spoilt for choice with a very attempting array of new novels on offer beginning with Jessica Andrews’ debut, Saltwater, which follows a young woman from her Sunderland working-class home to the seductive delights of London where she’s won a university place. Lucy finds the transition from one life to another overwhelming, never quite losing her feelings of being an outsider and eventually fleeing to her late grandfather’s cottage in Ireland. ‘Lyrical and boundary-breaking, Saltwater explores the complexities of mother-daughter relationships, the challenges of shifting class identity and the way that the strongest feelings of love can be the hardest to define’ according to the publishers. I do like the sound of this one which puts me in mind a little of Sara Baume’s A Line Made by Walking.

Rosie Price’s debut, What Red Is, seems to explore similar themes, albeit more dramatically, following the inseparable Kate and Max through their four years at university. Max’s wealthy, socially assured family are very different from Kate’s whose life is shattered by an incident in a bedroom during a party at Max’s parents’ London house just after graduation. ‘What Red Is explores the effects of trauma on mind and body, the tyrannies of memory, the sacrifices involved in staying silent, the courage of a young woman in speaking out’ say the publishers. Price’s novel has drawn comparisons with all manner of authors, from David Nicholls to Meg Wolitzer, but I’m taking my cue from a couple of people whose opinions I trust in my Twitter feed where it’s been popping up for months.

Students and their relationships, both with each other and their teachers, are the subject of Cover imageSusan Choi’s Trust Exercise which sees Sarah and David fall obsessively in love in their first term at a performing arts school where teachers and students become dangerously close. Twenty years later, the students’ lives remain marked by what happened in the secret, enclosed world of their school. ‘Captivating and brilliant, Trust Exercise is a novel about the treacherous terrain of adolescence, how we define consent, and what we lose, gain, and never get over as we navigate our way into adulthood’s mysterious structures of sex and power’ say the publishers promisingly. I enjoyed Choi’s My Education very much and like the sound of this one.

Set in one of England’s new towns Andrew Cowan’s Your Fault takes us from the ‘60s into the ‘70s, following Peter from his first memory to his first love. Each chapter marks one year in Peter’s life, as his future self tells Peter’s story back to him. ‘It’s an untold story of British working-class experience, written with extraordinary precision and tenderness’ according to the publishers which sounds more unusual then it should. I do like the sound of that structure

Rather than telling the story of one life, Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other tells the story of twelve very different characters’ lives, most of them black British women.Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible’ promise the publishers. That structure certainly makes it irresistible to me. Evaristo’s Mr Loverman was an absolute joy raising hopes for this one.

Cover imageI’m rounding off this first instalment of May’s new titles with a collection of short stories by Julia Armfield, salt slow, which sounds a little surreal. It focusses on women and their experiences in society, apparently, exploring themes of isolation, obsession and love. ‘Throughout the collection, women become insects, men turn to stone, a city becomes insomniac and bodies are picked apart to make up better ones. The mundane worlds of schools and sea-side towns are invaded and transformed, creating a landscape which is constantly shifting to hold on to the bodies of its inhabitants’ according to the publishers, bringing to mind Michael Andreasen’s The Sea Beast Takes a Lover. Like Nicole Flattery, whose Show Them a Good Time I enjoyed very much, Armfield is the winner of The White Review Short Story Prize. An award to keep an eye on, clearly.

As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should any take your fancy. More soon…