Holiday planning and holiday reading

Personal: The Buxton Festival Fringe is upon us. I’ll be acting as compere for the two Chapel Arts Writing Group performances (7th July, 7.30- 9.00 pm and 17th July, 2.00-3.30 pm) as well as being in the audience for several other shows (and reviewing two of them for the Fringe organisers). It will involve a lot of driving; 16 miles each way to Buxton, six trips during the next two weeks or so, fuel prices doubling…

Once that’s out of the way and our plans for the Glossop Bookfest are under control, I shall take a week’s holiday. Yes, me! A holiday! A whole week! I’ve booked a cottage for the purpose and will explore parts of England I don’t know well.

As for books I might take with me…

Review: Andrew Dutton has done it again.¬†The Crossword Solver¬†is a novel comprising character portraits. All the characters interact as though they’re answers to crossword clues, meeting each other at right angles, touching at only single points shared between their otherwise diverse lives and personalities. The focus of their lives is a pub, the Bat and Ball; at the centre of the Bat and Ball is Ken’s table and it’s connection with the uncompromising landlady, Evil Mand; and at the centre of Ken’s table is Ken himself, the genial crossword solver, whose girlfriends no one has met.

Ken’s regular companions at the table are Jim the gay giant; the aptly named Frank Speke, who exercises his assumed right to say whatever he pleases; Tony the Convert, a self-styled evangelist; Wayne, determined to drink himself to death; Nev, who is fed up of the way white people behave around him; FMC, the militant solo Marxist; and three characters who epitomise the decline of a once-thriving town into a cultural desert – Pomo the Clown whom nobody wants to book, Emily the theatre director who’s trying to save the theatre, and Mal the Councillor, bribable and bottom-line-driven.

This is an amusing and often touching book, suppressed anger bubbling under its smooth surface. The prose is highly literate and the allusions are intelligent and well-chosen (though readers won’t lose much if they fail to spot them). It isn’t a quick read, any more than Nocturne is, but it’s one to relish.

Andrew Dutton, The Crossword Solver, Leaf by Leaf, 2021; ISBN: 9781788649292.


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