In 2017, Luan Goldie won the Costa Short Story Award for her story ‘Two Steak Bakes and Two Chelsea Buns’, and then in 2018 was shortlisted for the London Short Story Prize. Strong pedigree indeed, and this year marks her arrival as a novelist, with her debut Nightingale Point, and it is an absolute stunner. A breakout book that surely heralds the emergence of an author who will be making waves for many years to come, this is clearly the start of a very special journey.
Nightingale Point, set over a five-year period from 1996 to 2001, centres on a residential tower block of the same name and a handful of its residents. There is fifteen-year-old Tristan and his older brother and guardian, twenty-one-year-old Malachi. While Malachi is nursing a broken heart and trying to keep one eye on his studies and another on his brother, Tristan is more concerned with girls and rapping. Mary, their neighbour, looks out for the brothers, like they’re her own, but also has her own issues with wayward husband David. Elvis is a recent addition to Nightingale Point, having been allowed to live independently for the first time. He loves his flat but there’s a lot of rules and guidelines to remember even when his care worker is around. And finally, there is sixteen-year-old Pamela, the girl Malachi is moping over. The lives of these residents variously intersect but one day will change everything for them all.
Luan Goldie gives life to each of these characters in chapters written from their various perspectives and despite the differences and contrasts between them, she delivers each voice pitch-perfectly. Whether fifteen-year-old Tristan composing his next rap lyrics or middle-aged nurse Mary worrying over her decisions, the author inhabits her characters superbly, breathing into them an authenticity that makes each of them feel incredibly real. This in itself is a major skill, but one of the other challenges of such multi-voiced narratives is to make each voice compelling, and again the author does this with incredible aplomb. It is not just that she makes Tristan, Malachi, Mary, Elvis and Pamela so real, but also that she makes them so human that the reader can’t help but invest in each of them and their stories. Elvis is the most naturally endearing of the characters, but what is great is that Goldie ensures that each of them, in their own way, get under the reader’s skin. It is also refreshing to hear the voices of this working-class community – of a neighbourhood and people connected by geography and circumstance. Nightingale Point itself offers the perfect platform for exploring the engaging and complex internal and external lives of these characters and the links between them, and again the author delivers a pitch-perfect portrait. It is an affecting and deeply felt novel but never did I feel as if the depiction was patronising or pretentious; it seemed to be written with great sensitivity and understanding but also with a pride and passion in its characters.
The story itself is hard-hitting and shocking. In lesser hands, the tragedy at its heart could have strayed into the overblown or melodramatic, but the author keeps at the centre of her novel, the characters, so the story never becomes a Hollywood action piece but instead retains its emotional and human focus. The incident that changes these characters’ lives is but a catalyst to explore both the hardships and struggles of a community and its people. Luan Goldie takes her reader on the journey with these characters as they come to terms with what has happened and try to rebuild their lives. The novel is a story of loss and hardship but also of hope and renewal. It’s a vital work of fiction and a masterclass in writing.
Luan Goldie is a name worth remembering and I can’t wait to read more from this clearly very talented and perceptive writer.
J. Craddock 5/5
Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie
HQ 9780008314453 hbk Jul 2019