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Books Editorial

the-house-of-rumour.jpg September 12 Book Releases

The House of Rumour

Jake Arnott, Sceptre, £17

Golly! Where to start? Arnott’s latest novel takes in a bewildering series of decade spanning events, both real and imagined, and features 1940s pulp science fiction, spy rings, new romantics, the occult, Scientology, rocket technology, transsexuals, mass suicide and more. The opening chapters (each named after a tarot card) appear to bear no correlation to each other, until, gradually, the dots begin to be joined, with real characters such as Nazi Rudolph Hess, occultist Aleister Crowley and novelist Katharine Burdekin (lesbian author of the prescient 1937 novel ‘Swastika Night’) making appearances alongside assorted pop misfits and mad scientists. The playful nature of the novel is also reflected stylistically with Arnott not afraid to slip in some second person narrative, diary entries and a well-judged James Bond pastiche (which, naturally, has Bond creator Ian Fleming in a starring role). The result is a beguiling mix of Adam Curtis (renowned for his scattergun TV polemics), Jennifer Egan (specifically the narrative gymnastics of her novel ‘Welcome To The Goon Squad’) and Alan Moore’s comic ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’. One of the most hugely entertaining books I’ve read all year. RM

Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster

Simon Armitage, Pomona, £6.99

Sophie Lancaster was a twenty-year-old who, along with her boyfriend, was attacked by a group of men in a Lancashire park on a summer night in 2007. Her boyfriend survived the beating, but she died several days later. The ferocity of the attack saw the incident make the national press along with the fact that it was perpetrated for no other reason than Sophie and her boyfriend looked different to the men; they were “goths”. Armitage didn’t know Lancaster but through recollections of her by family and friends, he has sought to give her back her voice in this powerful and moving poetic sequence. Through it he sketches her birth, early life, attraction to the otherness found in goth, falling in love and then horrific beating and death. In a bravura sequence (reminiscent of John Cooper Clark) Armitage sketches the different tribes that make up the world, but it’s the last few pages that will lodge in your head, with Lancaster lying in hospital: “black roses that bloom / on my arms and legs / are the bitter bruises / of self defence.” Exceptional. RM

The Plantagenets: The Kings Who Made England

Dan Jones, HarperPress, £25

Succeeding The Normans, The House of The Plantagenet gave us the dynasty of kings who would help shape England into the country that it is today. It’s a period that contained some of the most significant events in our history, including Magna Carta (not seen as that big of a deal when it was signed in 1215); Simon de Montfort’s rebellion against Henry III and subsequent formation of Europe’s first parliament; the crusades; and the Peasants’ Revolt. Of course it was also a period of many bloody conflicts (largely against the French and civil wars) and Dan Jones captures the broad sweep of the seemingly never ending machinations that went on in the name of the crown, taking us onto the battlefields and high seas where these devastating battles were played out. The period is replete with powerful people, forever jockeying for position (and marrying an inexhaustible supply of Eleanors and Matildas), and the author relates their fascinating and interweaving stories in vivid detail. The book runs to 600 pages, but never drags, and deserves to be recognised of as one of the finest narrative history books of modern times. RM

Heaton: From Farms to Foundries

Alan Morgan, Tyne Bridge Publishing, £8.99

I’ve had many a pint at the Corner House pub in Heaton, but when it opened in 1936 (only the second pub to open in the area since the early 1870s) the local Methodist church regarded its construction as ‘immoral’ and many feared Heaton Road would become a ‘bear garden’. Its corner was fought however by the vicar of nearby St Gabriel’s, reasoning that The Chillingham Hotel pub was just too far for him to travel… This is one of the many fascinating tales to be gleaned from Alan Morgan’s fine new book on the history of arguably Newcastle’s most vibrant suburb. In it he traces Heaton’s story from medieval times, through to the introduction of farmlands and up to the present day. We learn that the area originally housed Newcastle East End (before their move to St. James’ Park and the formation of Newcastle United) and also Jack Common, the author George Orwell would call ‘the most genuine proletarian voice in Britain’. Beautifully illustrated with maps and photographs throughout, this is local history at its very best. RM

Carpet Burns: My Life with Inspiral Carpets

Tom Hingley, Route, £12.00

If The Stone Roses and The Happy Monday were the Premier League title contenders of the Madchester scene of the late 80s, then The Inspiral Carpets, along with the likes of The Charlatans, were certainly vying for those Europa Cup places. But in Tom Hingley, their frontman, they have a bloke who is certainly near the top of the pile when it comes to compiling his memoirs. This is one of the best of its kind books I’ve read in a while and details the Inspiral’s early days, the excitement surrounding the Madchester explosion, the band’s raucous tours, the recording of their three albums, the break-up and subsequent solo careers. Their early days saw a certain Noel Gallagher acting as their roadie (“very shy yet immensely piss-taking”) and Hingley is very good on the trials and tribulations that must befall all bands trying to make their way in the world. He’s also good on explaining the inspirations behind their various album tracks and, of course, there are anecdotes galore, the best of which feature, invariably, Mark E. Smith… DP