It’s 2019 in Sudleigh, a market town not far from the south coast. It’s not a bad place to live, provided the new housing development doesn’t ruin it, but most residents are too caught up in their own disappointments, grudges, and sores to notice.
Gap-year Tom is cleaning toilets but finding unexpected solace in his Chinese house-share. Former lounge musician Frank wants to pass his carpet business to his nephew Josh, killing the boy’s dream to become a chef. Sharp-elbowed phone-sex operator Heather will stop at nothing to become manager of the golf club. Miss Bennett keeps putting her house on the market when she doesn’t want to move.
Do they all know how their lives are linked? And will creative writing tutor Tony, hard at work on his ironic pseudo-children’s book The Jazz Cats, ever pluck up the courage to leave his unappreciative girlfriend Lydia?
Meticulously observed, with flashes of wicked comedy, We Need to Talk offers a jigsaw puzzle of unwitting connections for the reader to assemble. The finished picture is an unflinchingly honest portrait of multi-jobbing, gig-economy Middle England on the eve of Covid.
A beautifully observed series of short stories which are all linked. Sudleigh is a small town where everyone knows almost everyone and even if they don’t, they know someone who does.
There are some lovely characters – I particularly had a soft spot for Tony, a published writer who is working on a new book called The Jazz Cats, and is in a relationship with the ghastly, pretentious Lydia, a glass artist, who goes to painting classes with divorcee Miriam (who wants to buy Miss Bennett’s house), where they are tutored by Sean, whose family constantly compare him to his successful brother and want him to get a ‘real’ job.
George (another of my favourites) is recently widowed and his daughter thinks he is falling apart. He is obsessed with gardening and why not. Frank was once in a band called Furore with Ted who went off to work on the cruise ships. Frank owns a carpet warehouse, but now nearing retirement, he wants to hand over the business to his nephew Josh. But Josh is a trained chef and wants to run his own restaurant. Tom is estranged from his mum and her nasty husband, but the Chinese family with whom he lives treat him as family.
Heather is the worst – she is so determined to better herself, she won’t let anyone stand in her way (including one of our old friends), even if it means dirty tricks and subterfuge. She has no scruples whatsoever. It looks at first glance as if none of these people can have anything in common, but they are all linked, even if sometimes rather tenuously.
At the heart of the story is the small town of Sudleigh and the plan to build 90 new houses on an estate. There is objection from many of the townspeople who want to put a stop to it. Stupid Lydia thinks they can all be united through a competition called In Bloom. There are also a number of references to Brexit.
This is a very clever and intricately woven story that never seems disjointed, in spite of so many separate characters. I never thought I would remember them all but I didn’t even have to refer to the book once when writing this review. A great read.
Many thanks to @damppebbles for inviting me to be part of #damppebblesblogtours
About the Author
Jonathan Crane completed an MA Literature and a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Essex, where he is now an academic in Creative Writing. He also works with charities to design and deliver writing programmes in prison and community settings. His previous writing includes fiction and academic papers. Formerly a musician/composer, he has released two albums. We Need to Talk is his first novel. He currently lives in Hampshire.
Lightning Books: https://www.eye-books.com/books/we-need-to-talk
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/35KhFEi
Amazon US: https://amzn.to/3gVEs58