With the change in working practices of late, far fewer physical books have been dropping through my letterbox, so when a copy of A Saint in Swindon by Alice Jolly arrived in surprise post I was thrilled. I’m delighted to share my review today and would like to extend my enormous thanks to Alice for sending me a signed copy of A Saint in Swindon.
I’ve long loved Alice Jolly’s writing. Indeed, my review of her Dead Babies and Seaside Towns was one of the early posts here on Linda’s Book Bag when I was delighted to interview Alice too. I have Alice’s Between The Regions of Kindness waiting patiently on my TBR but if it is half as good as her Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile that I reviewed here, I’ll be in for a treat.
Written in collaboration with Swindon Artsworld Reading Group, A Saint In Swindon was published by Fairlight Books on 4th May 2020 and is available for purchase through the links here. You’ll also find reading and writing notes in the same place.
A Saint in Swindon
When a stranger arrives in town, with a bulging blue bag and a whiff of adventure, the neighbourhood takes notice. When he asks for his meals to be sent to his room and peace and quiet for reading, curiosity turns to obsession.
Each day he stays there, locked in his room, demanding books: Plath, Kafka, Orwell, Lawrence, Fitzgerald, James, Bronte (the eldest), Dickens, Dumas, Kesey – on and on, the stranger never leaving his room. Who exactly is he? What is he reading? And will it be able to save us from the terrible state of the world?
Written by award-winning author Alice Jolly, and based on an idea by the book lovers of Swindon town, this funny and, ultimately, dystopian tale, reminds us of the importance of literature in an increasingly dark world.
My Review of A Saint in Swindon
An enigmatic man at the bed and breakfast will cause quite a stir.
Now let me get this out into the open. I don’t much like dystopian fiction. However, I am a huge fan of Alice Jolly’s writing and it comes as no surprise to me that if anyone can persuade me to read a narrative with a dystopian undercurrent she can. And did. In spades. I thought this long short story of just under 90 pages was utterly sublime and I loved every word of it.
I am in total awe of how much content there is in A Saint in Swindon. It’s a brilliantly crafted story set in the searing, maddening heat of the future when water is running out. How we have affected the planet, and how it in turn affects us, is just one thread in this rich and multi-layered little book. There are so many entertaining and thought provoking aspects that I suspect I could read it many, many times and find something fresh and new on each occasion.
An eclectic mix of concepts and themes like religious fanaticism, feminism, independence, power and corruption, sexuality and sensuality swirls around the plot so that reading A Saint in Swindon is a delightfully fascinating. I loved the way the plot is multi-layered so that we get moments from the past eddying in the futuristic present, making for a captivating story.
There’s an almost metaphysical conceit through the imagery of literature so that there is immense joy in simply encountering much loved books and authors. Literature lovers and book groups alike will adore A Saint in Swindon. But this is no self-important text that will only appeal to those with an interest in literature. Through the books and their references is enormous humour and wit so I found myself laughing aloud on many occasions.
The literary references are perfect in creating the narrator’s character too. I kept thinking of Victoria Wood as her voice rang loud, clear and oh so entertainingly. It may be because she is described as a fifty-something woman that I identified with her so readily, but I was with her every step of the way. I thought her acerbic comments were fabulous. Her rhetorical questions, her Tuesday afternoon arrangement with Len, her matter of fact tone and the way she devours the books brought me incredible entertainment. I can see myself returning to this slim book any time I need cheering up because there’s so much to relate to and much that is tongue in cheek whilst having serious undertones. The writing is pitch perfect.
I am in awe of Alice Jolly’s craft. She seems to be able to write in any style or genre with flawless aplomb and A Saint in Swindon is a shining example of her brilliance. I loved it unreservedly.
About Alice Jolly
Alice Jolly is a novelist and playwright. Her fourth novel Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile was runner up for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2019. That novel was also on the longlist for the Ondaatje Prize and was a Walter Scott Prize recommended novel for 2019. Alice has also won the Pen Ackerley Prize and the V.S.Pritchett Prize. She teaches creative writing at Oxford University.