Category Archives: Bristol

1000 Books to Read Before You Die, a Bristol perspective

1000 books is an incredible number to find and write about but the essays and sections feel like they have had individual attention rather than just being quick summaries, in this collection. From King to Kafka and the Quran to Nora Ephron, the book selections must fit most moods as they are incredibly varied.

It all boils down to what seems an enormous effort by a true bibliophile, James Mustich, editor-in-chief of the Barnes and Noble Review. Recommendations cover fiction, poetry, science and science fiction, memoir, travel writing, biography, children’s books and history.

Cleverly arranged alphabetically by each author’s last name, so that priority would not need justification, there’s Grimm next to Grisham, and Orwell followed by Ovid. Essays on why each book is an essential read conclude with notes on the best edition, other books by the author, “if you like this, you’ll like that” recommendations and recommended audio versions and TV and film adaptations.

I would love to pitch a Bristol section and help Mustich select more location-inspired reads as there are quite a few Bristol links within the choices but there could be more.

The second book listed is Flatland — the famous two-dimensional romance — by Edwin A. Abbott who in 1864-1865 was an assistant master at Clifton College. Another link to the exclusive Bristol school is the Agatha Christie entry of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Christie was married in Emmanuel Church on Guthrie Road. They came to Bristol because her husband’s step-father was a schoolteacher at the Clifton College.

St Augustine of Hippo is a bit of a non-literary link but it was pleasing to think of St Augustine’s Parade in front of the Hippodrome.

I’ll leave up to the reader to decide whether it is Mustich who has chosen from far and wide or whether Bristol does have its many links to literature. Sherlock Holmes was meant to have been written by Arthur Conan Doyle’s wife Louise who studied at Badminton School in Westbury on Trym; Edmund Burke was a Bristol MP, Jane Austen lived close by in Bath and died two years after Mary Shelley summered in Clifton in 1815 and looked down at the ships carrying slaves. It’s quite possible that Frankenstein’s monster came to pass because of the links with the horrendous exploitation she witnessed or could imagine.

Charles Dickens’ characters stay at a hotel on Corn Street where, next to the current Registry Office, there is a plaque celebrating our mention in the Pickwick Papers. J.K. Rowling is from Yates–and close enough to count as a local– while the Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett may not have the gripping plot of Harry Potter but this first epistolary book does make its way through Bristol too.

The most classic of Bristol novels, Treasure Island, is also on the list. Linked to both the Llandoger Trow and the Hole in the Wall just a street away from each other on Welsh Back, the book is said to have a “taut narrative line that ripples with ominous vibrations”. Read the first few pages and see if you can stop, suggests Murtich. I’d say the same about 1000 Books to Read Before You Die. The selection is intriguing and challenging at the same time. A worthy addition to any bookshelf.

1000 Books to Read Before you Die is out now from Workman Publishing

If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch

If I Die Before I Wake is ex-journalist Emily Koch’s first published book. It’s a crime thriller with the premise that the author has to solve their own murder before they die. The protagonist is male and he is locked-in to his body and unable to communicate with anyone.

The book has had some good reviews on Goodreads already as many advance copies were made available.

It is set in Bristol.

 

Published in 2018 by Harvill Secker, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

 

Students, speak now or forever hold your peace

A property developer has taken a sledgehammer to a 400-year-old Jacobean ceiling  1 in a conservation area of Bristol in order to devalue the property and convert it into student flats. He did it only a day before it was due to be visited by Historic England and hopefully Listed.

The outrage has been huge locally and nationally. But this can’t be the only destruction that has occurred to Bristol’s heritage and it’s certainly not the only building in danger although it was the oldest, so why all the fury now?

The ‘insult to injury’ part of this particular moral, if not currently legal, crime is that the destruction was perpetuated by a quick-profit developer uninterested in  Bristol heritage and looking to benefit from students; some who pay up to £35k a year for their studies.

Students, as I was reminded at a neighbourhood consultation about cutting £30 million from public local services this year and a further £70m by 2021, don’t pay council tax. While the rest of us Bristol residents have seen our council taxes increase yearly, the university has so much money that it is buying property after property. While 17 out 27 Bristol libraries are to be shut down to save money, and others are having their hours reduced, the University of Bristol is spending £75m to rebuild its library.

At the consultation event, to discuss libraries being shut down and millions slashed from already underfunded public services, suggestions were made by people sat at our table of nine. They included ‘make students volunteer their time’ and ‘make the universities pay a certain amount out of tuition fees per student.’ Someone quoted a study citing a number of volunteer hours that students had available to them and the unspoken implication being that those students were withholding help from the city that was providing for them. Other worryingly familiar narratives also included ‘why shut our library down when other libraries are being used much less?’ 2

The Bristol City Council are cutting £1.8 million from the ‘supporting people’ budget and the University of Bristol is spending £300 million redeveloping a new site that will host students who pay no council tax but take up a lot of city resources. There are expected to be up to 5000 additional students in the new development and coming to the city but there will only be 1188 accommodation spaces built by the university itself.  The rest will have to be found in the private rental sector.

A CBRE report quoted by the Bristol Post claims that the current number of 41,000 students will go up to 44,000 by next year. Most of the growth will be coming from the University of Bristol.

A topical paper by the Council in 2014 states: “In recent years demand for student accommodation has placed pressure on the local housing stock often resulting in perceived or actual harmful impacts on communities accommodating students, especially in areas close to the UoB.”

Problems identified have included:

  • Noise and disturbance associated with intensification in the residential use of properties/or the lifestyle of occupants;
  • Pressure for on-street parking;
  • Breakdown in social cohesion;
  • A shift in the character of shops and businesses supporting the community;
  • Unsympathetic external alterations;
  • Poor waste management;
  • A shift from permanent family housing to more transient accommodation;
  • A reduction in the choice of housing available in an area.

Surprisingly, what isn’t mentioned is direct financial gain to the city through CIL fund payments by specialised housing premises for students. For example, just one student accommodation company CRM recently paid close to £1m.

In 2014, there were approximately 3800 bedspaces for students in the city centre and another 2489 with planning permission. There could be a lot more being created  without the numbers being known because, since 2010, legislation changes mean that permission is no longer needed for the transformation of houses into multiple occupation premises (Bristol City Council).

The council is set to cut at least £4.1m from the council tax reduction scheme that allows vulnerable people to pay less tax. Public toilets are closing, 1000 members of staff are being made redundant, parks will no longer be maintained, neighbourhood partnerships have been defunded, and a myriad other cuts are being put in place.

The number of student properties however are increasing and they include the University of Bristol’s own accommodation, Dwell housing on Hotwell Road that is registered in tax haven Guernsey and bought for £6.4m, and Unite which owns 14 properties for student accommodation in Bristol. And many others.

There will soon be so little left of Bristol and yet here is a man with a sledgehammer destroying what little we have in order to make profit from students who don’t even pay council tax and whose university has been flaunting its millions around in the city.

To top it all off, housing in Bristol has been a problem for a long time and the increase of housing stock was one of Mayor Marvin Rees’ campaign promises; the University of Bristol is spending millions and charging up to £35k for tuition fees; public services are being cut drastically while student numbers, and their perceived harmful actions, are increasing and taking up private housing just when housing is at a shortfall. People are getting angry and they are going to need somewhere to vent their frustrations soon.

Brexit has already focused anger on immigrants so before the pitchforks come out for the students 3 it’s time to engage that part of Bristol’s community and look to them too for answers to our public funding crisis and student property worries.

Update: (22/10/17) Kerry McCarthy  speaking in parliament asked

The Minister talks about the expansion in student numbers. How often does he have conversations with the local government and housing Ministers about the impact on housing pressures in cities such as Bristol and on council finances, given that students do not pay council tax and developers do not pay the community infrastructure levy? Although those students are welcome, it does come at a cost.

Notes:

  1. This is a metaphor –he, Mr Baio– probably had his construction workers do it for him. Ephemeral Digest does not claim that the owner of Midas Properties caused the destruction himself.

  2. ‘Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!’ http://www.george-orwell.org/1984/21.html
  3. whose number used to include me and will hopefully do so again in the future

Life Chances, a novel that traces Broken Britain, from the University of Bristol

The University of Bristol team, Productive Margins, have not only produced a novel but have also set up an Etsy shop to sell the products they have created.

The novel is called Life Chances and it tracks the journey of an aspirant journalist as she explores ‘Broken Britain’, uncovering the personal stories of refugees, migrants, and families living in low-income situations and dealing with the UK authorities. They discover that it is not easy to gain a foothold on the economic ladder or find security for your children.

The authors (community members, researchers and artists) lived the lives of the characters while writing the novel, primarily by making jewellery and enacting the jewellery co-operative that is a major storyline. Fiction has now turned to fact with Life Chances authors Moestak Hussein and Akilah Tye Comrie setting up ‘Life Chances CIC’ for real. The jewellery-making business aims to help people living in marginalized communities to take back control of their lives.

Life Chances is written and edited by Simon Poulter and Sophie Mellor (Close and Remote), Nathan Evans, Moestak Hussein, Akilah Tye Comrie, Trasi, Safiya, Saediya and the wider community of research volunteers in Bristol and Cardiff.

The novel is one of the outputs from the University of Bristol-led Productive Margins project that aims to find new ways of engaging communities in decision making with regulatory services and policy makers.

Bristol Book events coming up in February

11 February – 14:30
Waterstones, The Galleries
Children’s author Maz Evans talks about her book Who Let the Gods Out?

Waterstones, Broadmead, Bristol, BS1 3XD
T: 0117 925 2274 W: www.waterstones.com

 

 

 

11 February – 11:00 to 16:00

Waterstones, The Galleries

Walker and travel writer Christopher Somerville will be at Waterstones signing copies of his new book January Man and the Times Britain’s Best Walks.

https://www.waterstones.com/events/christopher-somerville-in-the-shop/bristol-galleries

 

 

11 to 19 February – 14:00 – 16:00
Foyles, Bristol
Half-Term Story Corner
Children’s Event, Free Event
For the little ones during half-term, there will be colouring, drawing, quiet reading time, and complimentary squash and biscuits!

There will be a cosy corner set up in the children’s section between 14:00 and 16:00 throughout the whole week of half-term as well as free refreshments and giving away stickers.

Foyles, Cabot Circus, Bristol, BS1 3BH

23 February – 18:30 – 20:00
Spike Island

As part of the Novel Writers series, Emma Flint talks about her novel Little Deaths.

It’s the summer of 1965, and the streets of Queens, New York shimmer in a heatwave. One July morning, Ruth Malone wakes to find a bedroom window wide open and her two young children missing. After a desperate search, the police make a horrifying discovery.

The sexism at the heart of the real-world conviction of cocktail waitress Alice Crimmins for the 1965 murders of her two young children forms the basis of British author Flint’s gripping debut.

Spike Island, 133 Cumberland Road, Bristol BS1 6UX

27 February 2017 – 19:00
Waterstones, The Galleries

Dorit Rabinyan talks about her new novel All the Rivers. chance encounter in New York brings two strangers together: Liat is a translation student, Hilmi a talented young painter. Together they explore the city, share fantasies, jokes and homemade meals and fall in love. There is only one problem: Liat is from Israel, Hilmi from Palestine.

https://www.waterstones.com/events/festival-of-ideas-at-waterstones-dorit-rabinyan/bristol-galleries

Waterstones, Broadmead, Bristol, BS1 3XD
T: 0117 925 2274 W: www.waterstones.com

28 February – 19:00
Waterstones, The Galleries

Simon Sebag Montefiore talks about his internationally acclaimed book The Romanovs, the Waterstones Non-Fiction Book of the Month.

 

Elizabeth Blackwell, born in Bristol, a doctor in New York

From the Writer’s Almanac for 3 February.

“It’s the birthday of the first woman to graduate from medical school, Elizabeth Blackwell, born on this day in Bristol, England, in 1821. She wanted to become a doctor because she knew that many women would rather discuss their health problems with another woman. She read medical texts and studied with doctors, but she was rejected by all the big medical schools. Finally the Geneva Medical College (which became Hobart College) in upstate New York accepted her. The faculty wasn’t sure what to do with such a qualified candidate, and so they turned the decision over to the students. The male students voted unanimously to accept her. Her classmates and even professors considered many medical subjects too delicate for a woman, and didn’t think she should be allowed to attend lectures on the reproductive system. But she graduated, became a doctor, and opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children.”

From Changing the Face of Medicine:

She also published several important books on the issue of women in medicine, including Medicine as a Profession For Women in 1860 and Address on the Medical Education of Women in 1864.

Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Bristol, England in 1821, to Hannah Lane and Samuel Blackwell. Both for financial reasons and because her father wanted to help abolish slavery, the family moved to America when Elizabeth was 11 years old. Her father died in 1838. As adults, his children campaigned for women’s rights and supported the anti-slavery movement.

In her book Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women, published in 1895, Dr. Blackwell wrote that she was initially repelled by the idea of studying medicine. She said she had “hated everything connected with the body, and could not bear the sight of a medical book… My favourite studies were history and metaphysics, and the very thought of dwelling on the physical structure of the body and its various ailments filled me with disgust.” Instead she went into teaching, then considered more suitable for a woman. She claimed that she turned to medicine after a close friend who was dying suggested she would have been spared her worst suffering if her physician had been a woman.

London to Bristol route a success for James Attlee

Station to StationJames Attlee’s book Station to Station, about the London to Bristol route, is on the shortlist for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year.

Station to Station is a tale of journeys unlike those of the commuters who “lifting their eyes momentarily from an e-reader or pausing in their perusal of a newspaper to stir a cup of coffee, they may notice a town flashing past that they will never visit and wonder what happens there.” Attlee visited and wrote and travelled and observed as the GWR’s writer in residence. He was given a free travel pass and used it.

I first wrote about this veritable feast of travel anecdotes in Bristol247 and delighted in reading about Brunel’s cheeky plan to turn the horse at Cherhill into a steam locomotive that included the offensive letters GWR, after the villagers there opposed the railway; and then of the landscape’s “shifting gradations of colour, contour and light beneath the heavy sky,” on the way to the railway bridge at Maidenhead before passing the “view of the 12th century St Mary’s church at Cholsey where Agatha Christie, the author of the Miss Marple mystery 4.50 from Paddington, lies buried.”

Station to Station also has the honour of being one of five out of the six books on the shortlist that are by independent publishers. Guardian Books will undoubtedly be proud and this is one more book-related success for the media group. They were recently sold to the two employees who ran it. Long may the future of books and of Stanfords be a profit-making one.

Libraries are not wishy-washy cultural ‘love of books’ havens

Updated: New plans by the local council now suggest that 17 libraries will be closed. See one petition .

I wrote this a few months ago when I was Books Editor at a regional magazine. I thought it was pretty strong in terms of its wording so was reluctant to publish but now re-reading it, it doesn’t feel strongly worded enough. Bristol is very lucky to only have one library close out of 27 and I say this because I am an avid reader of Public Libraries News and the devastation across the UK is just incredible. I urge you to read it and see exactly what is happening as the Conservative government devastates public resources.

What makes me even angrier than the government destroying our libraries is the wishy-washy cultural claptrap that fiction authors come up with at times like this. They focus on the beauty of literature and how it inspires the soul and how readers are better educated, perhaps, and that libraries are important because every child can find something that speaks to them in the pages of fiction.

FICTION.

Fiction is cheap. If you want fiction you can go to a charity shop and pick up a book for 50p. Fiction is wonderful and delightful and feeds the soul – perhaps – but it misses the huge role that libraries play in our democracy.

Do you know how much non-fiction books cost? If you were told you had cancer and you wanted to read about it in more depth and were thinking of buying a medical textbook, you would need to pay over £60. Books on science, politics, law, construction, engineering, anything that requires learning and education. Fiction is lovely but cheap. Knowledge is essential and unaffordable.

So I’m sick of people talking about how their grandfather used to take them to the library where they spent wonderful moments and decided to write more fiction so more children could have wonderful moments. The true crime of our libraries shutting down is the full-frontal assault on democracy and knowledge. The government is destroying sources of information. They are taking away the power from citizens of educating and informing themselves. What gets left afterwards is the mass of elite-owned media which so far have been supporters of the government.

The following shows just this when you consider how anti-Corbyn they have all been, including most importantly, The Guardian, even though it claims to be of the left:

“Other than that, we’ve got three London boroughs making waves. There’s a lot of action, notably from Unison, about Barnet’s proposal to cut library services and almost half their library staff in the process. Amazingly, the Shadow Chancellor comes out with a fulsome note of support for the protestors. That’s a real, very real, change from pre-Corbyn days.”

The following is what I wrote months ago. I didn’t expect to ramble on so much in the preamble and have probably said all I wanted to say. My point is that people talk of libraries as a privilege but they are not a privilege. They are an essential part of a functioning democracy. To call them a privilege is to allow them to be destroyed because in times of (manufactured) austerity all we can afford are the basics. Well libraries are the basics. They are the bare necessities and if you listen to fiction writers you will soon start believing that maybe they are not necessary after all.

The ‘cultural fiction narrative‘ is a decoy. Ignore it and remember that when you need information you won’t be able to afford it. If you need your soul to sing with the passion of someone’s artifice, you’ll probably find it at your local charity shop.

Anyway, here is the piece:

My bibliophile uncle who loved books so much that he rented another apartment for all of his, died recently. He was a lawyer.

He didn’t just find his cultural self and soul through middle of the range commercial fiction or classic literature that was published within the last couple of centuries. He found knowledge, information and education. He had the basis of culture.

Fiction makes up less than half of what a library can offer and it’s not until you need to learn about your history, the government, medicine, health or anything that requires a Dewey decimal number that you realise not every book costs around a fiver.

Libraries seem a privilege because they are associated with culture and entertainment but you have no idea what a privilege access to information is until you lose it.

At your local library, for £3.50 you can borrow any book published in the UK, including textbooks. Textbooks that can cost over £100.

I don’t begrudge fiction and I don’t think it’s just entertainment because it comes in large print, on ebook, in audiobooks (downloadable on my phone) , out to prisons and as part of a mobile library. It isn’t the fiction you can pick up at oxfam, it’s access and format and resources.

The necessity and privilege of being able to read Marx and Locke an John Stuart Mill is not greater than finding magic in Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl but taking away education and information is devastating to society. Taking away the fiction which describes and relates the magic of us to everyone is taking away a sparkle and lifeline from a certain section of our city.

When those consulting on our libraries look at the benefits to the city they consider everyone but not everyone has any interest in the library.

The weakest and most vulnerable have nowhere else to go because everywhere else requires some form of payment.

There are others who don’t need free books, access to daily newspapers and magazines or who have any interest in book clubs or readings or literary walks. They can afford access to information no matter what the cost and the library is not for them.

For lovers of libraries there is always a story of love and connection and access to the rest of the world through books. The stories seem personal but they are only individual in the sense that we divide public goods and share them amongst each other. We all benefit individually when we all grow culturally and as a society together. When it all breaks down we all lose as a society and more importantly grow in our isolation. This is exactly what Thatcher was talking about when she said there is no society there are only individuals.

Together we hold the safety net for the weakest, apart we protect only ourselves. We can only grow together. You take away our libraries and next you take away our power as citizens.

You think I’m exaggerating but I come from a family which houses its books in a flat of their own. The libraries in Bristol aren’t confined to one person- they are all of our mistress. Open access for all. Now that’s love.

The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds and how men get to speak while women stay silent

secretlife4yearolds_150309a

The following are some thoughts after seeing the show:

I have just watched the Secret Life of 4 Year Olds which is based on observation over two weekends, each six months apart, observing children. The men with PhDs, who said they had never been able to listen to children like that before (this group of children wore microphones), were the only ones who commented on behaviour while the female teachers were not shown expressing any opinion even though they had a lot more contact with children this age. This felt one-sided. 

The children were fascinating but I won’t comment on their behaviour. 

Channel 4 describes the show as follows: 

 This documentary follows 10 four-year-olds as they meet at nursery, exploring how children make and break friendships, share, stand up for themselves, and find their place in a new social group.

Dr Paul Howard -Jones is from the University of Bristol and one of two educational neuroscientists who observe the children from behind the scenes by observing the action on monitors. The show cuts away at regular intervals to the two male scientists reacting to the children while watching them and listening on headphones. 

Jones said :”Even though I wasn’t interacting with the children, I found myself becoming incredibly involved, emotionally, in the narratives that were developing for each individual child.”

The other scientist was Dr Sam Wass from the Cognition and Brain Science Unit at Cambridge University.

The two women who do interact with the children are “highly trained teachers” and their profiles are not posted on the website and their opinions are not sought. 

 The questions I have about this show 

 1. How much of children’s  behaviour is copied from their carers? 

 2. How can the scientists draw conclusions from the children’s actions without seeing how their carers behave? 

3. Do the teachers agree with all the conclusions?

 4. what do the teachers have to add about individual children and group behaviour based on their experience and education?

5. What do they think about the limitations and benefits of filming  children over such short periods of time?

Week 7: Clever Girl vs Things Unborn

Two things are unavoidable in Bristol novels: slavery and the suspension bridge. I’m now almost certain that a reference to Bath Spa University will have to be added to that list.

Tessa Hadley would have walked alongside C.J. Flood, Nathan Filer and Anna Freeman at Corsham Court in Bath as she lectured and still lectures at that university. One way in which she stands out from the rest however is that she has often been published in the New Yorker, including two chapters from Clever Girl.

clevergirlIn Clever Girl, she writes about Stella who we follow from the bedsit she shares with her mum in Kingsdown in the 1960s, all the way to adulthood and through most of Bristol. Stella’s auntie ‘Andy went to work on the factory floor of the chocolate manufacturers where Uncle Ray was in dispatch.’ The chocolate manufacturer is Fry’s which was based at Nelson Street.

There is a move from the city centre to a new estate on Stoke Bishop. We chart her various phases through location. Young, single mother Stella works on Park Row and lives in a commune.

What got very tedious for me was the constant description of everyone’s face and personality. The way they were labelled in such detail. Hadley says that “I never think that the material detail is an addition to the story. A story is what it is through the detail.” And yet those details have to progress the story not just be used to add words.

Stella is a sad and burdened kind of character who is talked about by her future self as if she spent her whole life lacking self-awareness. The characters aren’t easy to enjoy but the story did bring up something very Bristolian that doesn’t get discussed very much; the wide disparity between those who participate in higher education and those who don’t. Or those who have opportunities and those who don’t.

polar2_bristol

The map of Bristol above shows a range of areas with different levels of participation in HE. Dark blue areas are where most young people will go on to HE and the red patches show areas where few, if any, do. In Bristol, it is often the case that these areas are right next to each other. Clifton, Cotham and the city centre are all areas of higher participation and right next to St Philip’s where very few young people may know anyone in HE.

The two universities in Bristol are also very different. One is full of “girls and boys with glossy hair and loudly assured voices who’d been to private school” and the other is UWE, surprisingly not mentioned in this book. Stella in later life gets three As at A Level and ‘with these good grades [she] applied to university” and got in to study English literature. This of course makes little sense in real-world Bristol University. Every one who applies there has three As (or A*s now). Good grades are only a distinguishing factor if that’s what separates you from the other candidates. At Bristol this does not and most people of Stella’s background apply to and attend UWE instead.

Things Unborn by Eugene Byrne is the contender against Clever Girl this week and while I knew it was a novel set in London with very little Bristol reference, I just couldn’t resist writing about Byrne and seeing what his fiction was like. If there is ever a writer who knows Bristol then it is he. He has written about Bristol in magazines, online and in published books. He wrote about Brunel and about plans for Bristol that never did get built.

Things Unborn, however, is just not that informative about this West Country city. There is a wink at Bristol with reference to the Locarno Music Hall which used to be where the O2 Academy is now and was popular in the 1960s. There is also a pretty great description: ‘The great city of Bristol was the light and the shadow of their lives, a huge, sprawling, noisy port where merchants got rich on slaves and sugar, and the poor drank and pissed their money and miseries away in stinking dockside ale houses.

In 1962, the USA and Russia went to nuclear war over Cuba…after millions of deaths, people started returning. Not just those killed in the Atom War, but people who had died centuries previously. And they were always reborn in the place where they died, at the age of their death. In Britain, there were struggles for power between Catholics and Protestants, another Monmouth Rebellion. Now, in 2008, Richard III rules the country – although he holds no real power. And Protestant fanatics would see him, his government and their “Liberal Settlement” destroyed. A handful of policemen and their allies must hunt down the conspirators.

Protagonist Inspector Scipio Africanus lived his previous life as a slave in Bristol and is a reference back to a black slave or servant in the household of the Earl of Suffolk. He died aged about 18 and was buried at Henbury Churchyard, Bristol, in 1720. His grave is one of the few known burial places in the UK of an African from the period when Christian Englishmen traded in slaves.

The links to Bristol are there but not enough to make this book a real contender. It’s a heavy-going read with a lot of information to process. There are many explanations about the new reality, about the retread procedure, about each and every past era from which the people who have died have arrived. Also the new reality consists of current police procedures, geographies, machines and products that all take some explanation and then there’s the parallel world’s history, current politics and future trajectory. And in between all this there is a storyline.

The effect is one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld meets Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. A quality production but not light and breezy.

This week’s winner is unquestionably Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley.