When I was first looking at reading this book I had a look at the first few pages and I thought to myself that here is a book that is very ‘Sheffield’. As a born and bred Sheffielder that makes it great for me but don’t worry if you don’t know the city as you will still appreciate the story.
I do, however, think that the setting is crucial, not least because it deals with the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, particularly for police officers who were on duty that day, some of whom have never been able to move on. One of those ex-officers is a character in the book and he’s obsessive about going over and over his memories and the paperwork relating to the incident.
The other major characters are all women. Alexa is a PCSO who is in a polyamorous relationship with Caron. Caron is a climber and wants to attempt the difficult Black Car Burning climb at Stanage Edge. Leigh works in a climbing gear shop and watches on as Caron pushes herself further and further with her climbs, whilst also dealing with her slightly unstable boss, Pete.
In between each chapter is a vignette from the point of view of a place in Sheffield, really bringing the city to life for both residents and non-residents alike.
Feelings and emotions are very much at the forefront of Black Car Burning. I’d describe it as a quiet and intense read at times. I liked the way boundaries were challenged and that it’s far from formulaic. It’s a very well-written story of love, loss, trauma, being tested and being brave, leading up to a hopeful ending. Helen Mort is a poet as well as a debut novelist and her writing is definitely poetic in style. This meant that it wasn’t always easy for me personally to read but I do think she has an intelligent, thoughtful and descriptive writing style. I’m really interested to see what she writes next.
Nicola Smith, Short Book and Scribes 4/4*
Black Car Burning by Helen Mort
978-1784741884 Chatto & Windus ebook/hbk April 2019