The Bricks that Built the Houses by Kate Tempest

This was one of my enormous collection of unread books for a really shamefully long time, given that I pre-ordered it about a month in advance of its release last April. In the meantime, I actually bought and read another one of her books, Let Them Eat Chaos. Honestly my book buying habits are ridiculous and I can’t explain myself.

The reason I preordered it (apart from a genuine adoration of her work) was that the Nottingham branch of Rough Trade was hosting a Q&A with Kate Tempest, and the way to get into the event was to preorder the book. They do this with albums a lot, if you preorder the vinyl you get access to a gig, but I’ve never known them to do it with a book before. It was a fantastic event, and made me more inspired than I have been in a long time to write and create. Kate Tempest is a fantastic speaker, eloquent and intelligent and funny, and her reading of the book’s first few pages was fantastic. I got home that night and immediately started reading it, and then proceeded to put it down for eight months.

I did finally get to it, by making it one of the limited number of books I took to my parents’ house over the Christmas break, and I do regret leaving it for so long. I love Kate Tempest’s writing, it is frequently dazzling, and I love writing in which the beauty of the language takes centre stage. She is a constant poet, even in her prose, and as a fan of her work I would have been disappointed had she not been.

For me, the flaw in the book was its pacing. It’s a pretty dramatic plot about drug deals and heists and enormous sums of money, but its anchored by intimate moments between family, friends, potential and actual lovers. All of that is great, but the problem is that every time a new one of the pretty sizeable cast of characters is introduced, you get a multi-generational backstory, which causes the plot and the interactions to screech to a halt. The technique is effective in building up a picture of South London over decades, of the people who make it up, but it’s frustrating when you’re reading. I like books with very little plot, and I like pacy books, but this sort of feels like it has taken bits of both, and it doesn’t quite work.

I do love the characters though, and the descriptions of the moments that they share. I was talking to a friend about it who found it rather self-conscious and overwritten, which maybe it is, but I think that’s what makes it brilliant. It is a little messy, it could probably be a little tighter, a little better edited, but it’s also joyful and beautiful and enthusiastic in a way that not a lot of prose is.

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