I was feeling particularly well-disposed towards Nell Leyshon even though this involved the confession that I'd never heard of her.
Novelist and playwright and, most importantly here, one of the judges along with Fay Weldon at the Windsor Fringe Marriott Award for New Drama Writing at which dgr nephew Simon Lynn was the ultimate winner.
Let's hear it for Nell...and Fay of course.
So a timely coincidence that I had been offered Nell Leyshon's second novel, Devotion, to read in review copy. Perhaps I'd better read her first in that case and how odd that these books pass you by.
Black Dirt published by Picador in 2004 has been longlisted for the Orange Prize in its lifetime but I can't have been paying attention because it rang no bells.
Be a bit embarrassing if I hated it after all this.
Thankfully I can put my hand on my heart and declare, how can I have missed such a good read?
Never mind, I've rescued it now and present it for your delectation. If like me you missed this one, you might want to backtrack and catch up with it because few books have me on the edge of my seat with emotional anxiety quite as a quickly as page fourteen.
Set in the flooded Somerset Levels around Glastonbury Nell Leyshon has immediately chosen a geographical location that can readily support a story laced with myth and legend, I was cut off from the rest of the world by the rising water along with the family until the story had been told, and with a sense of privilege to be listening in on the remaining days in the life of Frank.
Frank is terminally ill and has a self-administered morphine drip which moves him alternately from lucidity to dreamlike recollection as memories and seemingly insignificant life events flit in and out of his consciousness all making random connections.
At this point, for whatever reason, many may decide to dip out on reading this right now but don't forget this one. Come back to it when you feel up to it and you won't regret it.
Hovering in the picture is a chap of about fifty with learning difficulties called George. It's a while before we learn who George is but you realise all the implications of the situation very very quickly and I could sense myself getting worried by about page ten and panicky for George very soon after.There is no question, you can't read this book without loving George and worrying for him, books that make such simple but very clear emotional demands on the reader feel few and far between.
The analogies of layers of peat being peeled back like layers of time is wrought to perfection. All the memories preserved and waiting to be revealed, layer upon layer of Frank's life slowly disclosed and when I reached the final revelation my heart really did miss a beat.
Nell Leyshon captures the inane and often awkward bedside conversations with a practised ear.The time-fillers, the silence-breakers all detailed with intense and fascinating realism and all contributing to a book which is living with me long after the final page.
Margaret took a breath and waited. Then 'Look, can I get you anything?'
'Nothing I need'
'Right.Well raining still.'
'Rained like this last year, you remember?'
'All that sun in March and we knew we'd pay for it.'
Frank plucked at the corner of his pillows which had folded over and was digging in his neck. Margaret leant forward and straightened it. 'Twenty two days of rain in a row. Something like that.I remember seeing it on the telly'
So I had Nell's next book Devotion sitting here and I thought I'd save that to read nearer the publication date of February 2008, but perhaps I'd just read the first few pages and see...and a few more.
Expect my thoughts any day.