On Hampstead Heath may be a relatively short read at 248 pages but it’s certainly a mighty one. Thorn Marsh is a journalist, a news editor at a London newspaper when she finds that all of a sudden her face no longer fits with the new managing editor. She’s cast aside to a supplement focusing on cheery stories, not her thing at all. In a fit of pique and in the throes of a drunken haze she writes a piece that has only a vague semblance of truth to it. The repercussions of Thorn’s deception ripple down through the book.
The plot of this novel is inspired, focusing on how much truth there is in the press (or lack thereof), the advent of the digital age slowly killing off the newspaper, and all that social media has to answer for in the current news climate. It’s the writing and the characterisations that really stood out for me though. Marika Cobbold’s narrative for Thorn is a work of genius, the dialogue sublimely sharp and her inner thoughts so astute and perfectly observed. I found it so darkly funny. There is one scene in particular where Thorn visits her mother whose old friend, Joan Pyke, is there. Thorn’s acerbic thoughts on seeing Joan were thrown at me like knives from a knife-thrower, one after the other, never letting up, and I just couldn’t stop laughing. I kept re-reading certain sections of the book as a whole, marvelling at the way they were written and the pointed scrutiny of everyday situations and human foibles.
Thorn is a brilliant creation but every character in this book is perfect, slotting into their places in Thorn’s life, however large or small a part. Her relationships with her family, her friends and her colleagues all seem to be rather complicated but also very real, and I found them absolutely compelling.
I thought this was a fabulous read. It’s wise and perceptive, honest and witty. I think that whenever I need a good laugh I will think about Joan Pyke! This is the sort of book that belongs on prize lists.
Reviewed by Nicola Smith, Short Book and Scribes
Published by Arcadia Books (15 April 2021)
Hardback, ISBN 978-1911350927