Alan's Reviews > Heartland

Heartland by Anthony Cartwright
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's review
Apr 20, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: novels, read-in-2009

going to the launch on May 7th. Loved his first novel 'The Afterglow'.

Tremendous. Review to follow (tomorrow).


I give a lot of five star reviews. That's mainly because I seek out the best, plus you tend to forget the mediocre books you've read. Five stars are awarded if the book fulfills what I see as its brief, if the writer seems to succeed and takes you with them. Plus the books have to worm into me somehow, affect me when I look up, differently, from the page and later as I'm about my business. I'm with the writer always. Of course sometimes I don't succumb - I have my blindspots (eg the Davids Mitchell & Peace), sometimes I probably swoon too easily - I have my irrational loves (eg Henry Green & James Hanley).

Anthony Cartwright may be becoming one of the latter lot. His first novel 'The Afterglow' concerned the problems of encroaching unemployment in a community devastated by the closure of a steel processing factory. It was considered, true, a tricky but involving book that won your heart. Similarly this one. I'm not sure everyone will love it. It is as dense as his first, denser, moving between about ten points of view in a similar Black Country community and involves a lot of football. Many of the characters are watching the England v Argentina match in the 2002 World Cup, the one where Beckham scores a penalty to take England through; also a match is recalled between Cinderheath Sunday and Cinderheath Muslim Community team. This latter is the focus of much anti-Muslim feeling (the BNP - British National Party - see it as an oportunity to re-assert national values, and use it for electioneering purposes). Remember the time -2002 - only 9 months after 9/11, and that three of the Guantanamo internees were from here (the Tipton three - recently released). In the novel Adnan is missing and there is speculation he is one of the bombers. Into this mix of football and terrorism and local politics is thrown the story of the main character, an ex professional footballer with a famous dad and a crush on a teacher where he is a teaching assistant. A very rich and potent brew that could go terribly wrong if badly handled. Cartwright does it perfectly, with poise and compassion and skill.

I may be biased because

a) I love football and the writing makes you feel you are watching the England match on the big screen in the pub, and also on the pitch with the players in the Sunday League game, e.g.

Zubair had hit the pass, stood like a golfer having hit a tee shot he liked, perfectly still and watching it, and the ball that Rob thought he was going to head, deep down wanted to take on his chest and step away with and show his contempt for this game he'd somehow ended up involved in, was suddenly on him and he'd taken a step towards it to head it, but it was floating, floating, and was going to drop over him and instead of jumping Rob had to turn, which he couldn't do, not any more with his disintegrating knees, and scramble after it, and the ball was dropping over his head.

(that also gives you a flavour of how much the author can pack into one sentence).

b) It uses the Black Country idiom (Black Country btw refers to its past as a mining community, nothing to do with the high proportion of black and Asian immigrants who have settled there), which living in Birmingham just down the road is second nature to me and I understand perfectly this:

Yow ay gonna have a goo, am yer?

(you're not going to pick a fight are you?)

c) I don't really know the author but have met him twice at launches and had a quick chat and he is the most unassuming and pleasant fellow who obviously writes from the heart. He understands community and family and the limitations of their bonds and responsibilities and can put them in a wider, political context. But mainly he's a skilled writer who involves you in his webs of feeling and character.
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Reading Progress

April 20, 2009 – Shelved
April 20, 2009 – Shelved as: novels
Started Reading
May 1, 2009 – Finished Reading
November 13, 2009 – Shelved as: read-in-2009

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Jen (new)

Jen The book cover needs to be added...If only I was a better librarian on here I would know how to do it.

Alan seems someone has done it - was it you?

message 3: by Anastasia (new)

Anastasia Gryzunova Alan wrote: "seems someone has done it - was it you?"

that was me, sorry :)

Alan don't be sorry - thanks!

message 5: by Jen (new)

Jen She's magic, Alan.

message 6: by Charles (new)

Charles There's nothing irrational about loving Henry Green, Alan!

Alan true Charles, but I make my wife drive (I don't drive) past the house he grew up in every time we visit her sister (who lives nearby). And I still feel shivery going past.

message 8: by Charles (new)

Charles OK, that's irrational.

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