Guest Reviews – Amy and the Fox & The World is [Not] a Cold Dead Place

Amy and the Fox by John LakeAmy and the Fox by John Lake

‘West Riding iconoclast’ John Lake turns his focus on Southern middle class mores in his new novel, a tale of loss, love, sex, betrayal and talking animals set against the background of Cameron’s rise as Opposition Leader.
After London schoolteacher Amy Trent’s journalist husband Colin dies in a freak accident, his brother Max finds a concealed videotape left behind. He must now keep it from Amy – who unfortunately knows of its existence. Before she is ready to watch what is on that tape, Amy will make rash choices and shocking discoveries that threaten to blow her world apart all over again and turn her own family against her.
Perhaps the only things that can save her are a beguiling student troubled by psychic abilities and an urban fox that speaks in her dead husband’s voice. (Armley Press)

The World is Note a Cold Dead Place by Nathan O'HaganThe World is a Cold Dead Place by Nathan O’Hagan

I have developed a detachment from the rest of the human race.  I don’t fear them. I don’t consider myself above them.  It’s just that I genuinely loathe them.  There is no reason.  I wasn’t abused as a child.  There were no traumatic events in adolescence, no heartbreak or rejection in early adulthood.  Nothing to account for the person I have become.  I shall offer no explanation, no mitigation for what I am.  But whatever the reason, I have come adrift from mankind, and that is where I intend to stay.
Welcome to Gary Lennon’s world.  It isn’t a cold dead place.  You’ll like it there.  You’ll see things his way and you’ll want to stay.  But Gary’s therapist has other ideas.  He thinks Gary should get a job, meet people and interact with the real world.  Look out, people.  Look out, world. (Armley Press)

BOOK REVIEW(s) by Tony Ziemek

Armley Press is an independent publisher of intriguing and idiosyncratic works. Two new books on its growing list are reviewed here.  But first a little background.

The Armley Press website reads as follows:

Armley Press Mission Statement

So here we go:

I read Amy and the Fox in Shakespeare Week, which is held in the UK in late March each year. Something to do with introducing primary school kids to what David Cameron (who makes a sort of guest appearance in the book) would call “the works of the Bard”.  Time to inflate the chest, toast the Queen and thank that apathetic Church of England god for having won first prize in the lottery of life.

The perfect time then to review the latest novel from Leeds author John Lake. That’s because the plot is run through with a vein of Shakespeare that (amongst other things) nicely contrasts with the modern idioms of the characters and acknowledges that so much of modern English is threaded with his 400 year-old inspiration.

As with John Lake’s earlier works (e.g. Speedbomb, reviewed here), the dialogue delights, ranging authentically from middle-aged English Home Counties to London youf.  That’s hard stuff to get right and is matched by the author’s voice that is both colloquial and visceral.

It’s also a great and thoroughly absorbing story that follows the life of Amy after the death of her husband.  There are big themes of death and betrayal but these are never overwrought and play out against a background of the simply rendered, small details of life.  The effect is almost meditative and reminds me of the way that Haruki Murakami can describe the preparation of a simple meal and make it fascinating.

BOOK RATING: The Story 5/ 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5

Author Information: John Lake ;    Available from: Armley Press | Book Depository

And so to another gem from Armley Press, The World is a Cold Dead Place by Nathan O’Hagan.

The success of this book is that the central character, Gary Lennon may be unemployed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, agoraphobia, depression, paranoia and prone to panic attacks but we empathise with him.  These various disorders appear to be a rational response to a dysfunctional world, highlighted by (but by no means limited to) living in post-industrial Birkenhead.

Strangely, Gary is almost a conventional hero as he verbally duels with mediocre therapists and endures the banalities of working in a call-centre. He eventually achieves a form of triumph over the forces of dimness in the workplace and more broadly, in life.

The prose is intelligent and sharply modern and the plot thoroughly absorbing. These qualities are becoming the hallmark of Armley Press and you’ve got to admire that.

BOOK RATING: The Story 5/ 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5

Author Information: Nathan O’Hagan ;   Available from: Armley Press | Amazon | Book Depository

~ Tony Ziemek is the lead editor of Ed Fresh Editorial Services.