Archive | May, 2019

Van has finished reading… The Prick by Mazin Saleem

22 May

the prick

My teeth hurt. It’s because I’ve been gritting them, initially in that way you do when the awkwardness becomes unacceptably prolonged, when you’ve been making the point for so long it’s not reasonable that nobody seems to get it and you start to wonder if maybe it’s intentional, personal, but then the gritting took on a different quality altogether, beyond muscular, infiltrating the mind, finding focus. It became something else. It got real.

I’ve been reading Mazin Saleem’s The Prick, and it’s horrible. Horrible in the best possible way.


The tale begins with Will and Agatha on holiday – or travelling, as Will would have it. An unfortunate turn of events finds Will at the mercy of the sea but luckily Roland is there to save him. Unluckily, Roland turns out to be, well, you know…

With a title like The Prick you’re bound to be expecting at least one unlikeable character. For my money you get plenty more than one. I found myself wondering whether I would hang out with any of them, but then I’m not the most gregarious of Hectors. What you definitely don’t get is one dimension. The main characters may not be particularly likeable but neither are they so drenched in badness as to garner any cachet from the fact. They’re people, and just like people they’re apt to undo all the redeeming of a feature by behaving like a… you get the idea.

Regardless of whether you like them or not, for me there are two things that carry the story: the comedy and the tension. There’s something almost anecdotal about the writing style and it works well with the blend of comedy the writer presents, the laughs leaning towards the awkwardness of situations, the sense of in-jokes, and of the reader being on the inside rather than out. It’s in a knowing sort of style, though lightly done, and particularly evident in the chapter headings. They’re almost an aside that you read in a ‘what, seriously? still?’ kind of tone. And then there’s the delicious thread of tension Mazin Saleem maintains through the various phases of the story, a thread that gets stretched to breaking point in the final chapter! And that tension alone is enough to keep you turning the pages.

I love the cover too.


Mazin Saleem’s The Prick is a quick and witty read, a social comedy that’ll have you cringing as you laugh, and wondering just how far some people are prepared to go. But once you’re in you simply have to see it to the end.


The Prick was published by Open Pen on the 2nd May 2019, and you can buy it here.

My thanks to Sean at Open Pen for allowing me to review this book.Open Pen

Van has finished reading… Tiger by Polly Clark

13 May




I’ve fallen in love with a real live Siberian tiger. A Siberian tiger that, really, is many Siberian tigers, or perhaps all Siberian tigers rolled into one. I’ve fallen in love with its majesty and its ferocity, its ingenuity, its ruthless tenacity, its beauty. More than anything I’ve fallen in love with this Siberian tiger because it’s through this particular one that I now have some understanding of what it’s like to fear one and yet not be able to turn away, to yearn with love for one and everything that it represents, to submit to one’s embrace without – and this is vital – submitting. What it’s like to be one.

This is Polly Clark’s Tiger. It is glorious.


If you know me you know it’s not a thing I say lightly: this is beautiful writing. It’s been a little while since I read a book that invoked The Harvey Effect, those moments where a sentence seems to embrace you with its completeness. It’s been a long while since I read a book that did it so much! It’s definitely the first book I’ve read since, well, Kate Atkinson (Life After Life), that manages to combine The Harvey Effect with The Atkinson Experience.

There are four parts to the novel, each with a distinct narrative voice, each one leading the reader further into the Tiger’s world. The plotting is excellent and the characterisation sublime. First we meet Dr Frieda Bloom, a disgraced researcher into Bonobo monkeys. You might think it a strange tack to take with a book called Tiger but really it’s quite the master stroke. Having watched Frieda observe the Bonobos we can’t help but see the mirror being held up as we observe Frieda’s struggles with the challenges and the people life puts in her way. Then there’s conservationist Tomas on his father’s remote reserve in Russia’s eastern wilderness. Out of his element among people – even the men who maintain the reserve – Tomas is most at home on the trail, reading the landscape and tracking the elusive tigers that are the true inheritors of this vast frontier where the only instinct is to survive. Third – and I think probably my favourite – comes Edit (I’m guessing pronounced eedit) and Zina, an Undeghe mother and daughter living in the heart of the tiger’s territory. Theirs is a world steeped in lore and folk tales. The tiger is king here and rules with claws unsheathed. Nothing goes unnoticed and nothing is ever forgiven. Just like the tiger, it will take all of Edit’s skill and knowledge, her courage and sheer bravado, and not a little slice of luck to see them through another winter. It’s bad luck to see a tiger, the undenghe saying goes, though while the threat is implicit there’s a sadder shade to this truism too. Finally, we see the world through the eyes of the tiger herself. Brutal and beautiful, it’s a study in characterisation that traces the separate threads of the novel through every twist and turn to a perfectly-poised climax.

Polly Clark’s Tiger is a fabulous beast. Sumptuous and inviting, brutal and unflinching, it will draw you in until you’re staring right into that great fanged gape, and you won’t mind a bit! Read it. You have to. It’s brilliant.

Tiger was published by riverrun on the 2nd May 2019 ISBN:9781786485427

You can find Polly on Twitter @MsPollyClark or on her website,


My especial thanks to Ana McLaughlin at Quercus for allowing me to experience this truly exceptional book.