It gets into your bones. You don’t even realise it, until you’re driving through it, watching all the things you’ve always known and leaving them behind. Young Londoners Becky, Harry and Leon are escaping the city in a fourth-hand Ford Cortina with a suitcase full of stolen money. Taking us back in time – and into the heart of London – The Bricks that Built the Houses explores a cross-section of contemporary urban life with a powerful moral microscope, giving us intimate stories of hidden lives, and showing us that good intentions don’t always lead to the right decisions. Leading us into the homes and hearts of ordinary people, their families and their communities, Kate Tempest exposes moments of beauty, disappointment, ambition and failure. Wise but never cynical, driven by empathy and ethics, The Bricks the Built the Houses questions how we live with and love one another.
Put simply, Kate Tempest is writing goals. From page one, I was in awe of her beautiful, lyrical style. The Bricks that Built the Houses weaves together the lives of several South Londoners with so much depth, it’s simply stunning. Tempest has become an acclaimed poet, but this book is evidence she is a force to be reckoned with as a novelist as well.
I bought The Bricks that Built the Houses after watching Tempest on a random arts television program. That one program was followed by months of hearing her recite part of what I thought was a poem on one of those compilation adverts ABC does all the time. Turns out that snippet was actually part of the prologue. Anyway, it had me sold. The Bricks that Built the Houses is a hard novel to summarise. Basically it’s about people and their lives and the way everything interacts. In many ways this style, which has an undercurrent of mystery and unease, reminded me of Iain Banks’ gorgeous The Crow Road.
While the plot was intriguing, The Bricks that Built the Houses is a character-driven novel. This style may not be for everyone, but it’s my favourite. Building the intricate world of these characters, grounding them in a place which becomes a character in its own right, is a breathtaking feat. There is such depth to this story, but Tempest does a brilliant job of weaving in the detail without pulling the reader out of the moment. I loved the way the history of each character, even the seemingly minor ones, was explored. It really made this feel like reality, rather than fiction.
I was completely hooked on The Bricks that Built the Houses from the start. Whenever I put it down, I’d find myself thinking about the characters and wondering what would happen to them. Given the more literary style, this surprised me. I could not even try to guess the plot as I read, instead just becoming absorbed in the lives of this strange assortment of characters. I loved seeing how Tempest pulled this all together in conclusion and was surprised by how it all turned out.
Lyrical and moving, The Bricks that Built the Houses is a gorgeous novel. It was the first of Tempest’s work I’ve read, but it most certainly won’t be the last. I can’t wait to see what else Tempest has in store for us.