Set in 2019, Sudleigh is a small market town with big ideas, but is going nowhere fast. A new housing estate is planned, and along with it, all of the problems that will cause. Where will the schools be? The roads, the infrastructure? At a meeting of the Parish Council Martin is expected to talk to his wife Bridget, a councillor about it.
The chapters are all short stories that centre around the lives of Sudleigh’s inhabitants. Each one is a tiny microcosm of a life caught in flux. There is Tony, work on his novel the Jazz-Cats, making ends meet whilst teaching creative writing.
Tom has been kicked out of home, and is passing his gap year in a series of menial jobs, making ends meet, supported by a group of Chinese people in his house-share, giving him the sense of a family that he missed growing up.
We are in post Brexit small town life, and Covid is just making itself known. Two cases are mentioned in a news-report, whilst small town life is well explored. All of its small, fractious elements, people wanting change against people who don’t.
Former lounge musicians Frank and Ted meet up, briefly. Ted left abruptly for a life on the cruise ships, and is just back for a one man show, with his Roland keyboard and backing CDs. The business arrangement between them a bitter memory, and Frank is running the family carpet business, but wants to pass it to his nephew, Josh, who is training to be a chef.
George is a recent widow, with a worrying daughter, but he finds solace in his garden. Heather at the Golf course has secrets that she doesn’t want anyone to learn about.
We Need to Talk is an excellent collection of character studies, with each of the characters linked in some way. It looks at the insecurities that drive small communities. The importance of keeping and maintain traditions, whilst knowing that at any time they could end.
At under three hundred pages the book is a relatively quick read, and being set in the recent past, we can only imagine what Covid and Brexit would do to a small town like Sudleigh. We read it in the newspapers often enough.
Review by Ben Macnair
Published by Lightning Books (5 July 2021)
Paperback, ISBN 978-1785632389