Yasmin's Reviews > The Sea in Birmingham

The Sea in Birmingham by Gaynor Arnold
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really liked it

There were many reasons for looking forward to reading this collection of short stories from the Tindal Street Fiction Group, but I also know that anthologies can often be too disparate, in terms of style, theme, and quality to be wholly satisfying. So the first thing to say is that this is a terrific book, a true good read, which is more than the sum of its often excellent parts.

This is not a regional book. It will give especial pleasure to those who know and love or hate Birmingham and the Midlands, because it is steeped in the landscape, the cityscape, the urban detail, the liminal spaces, the language and the people of the region. But that is by the way. For this is also a book about Britain. Not the Midlands, not England, but the whole island. And not myths about Britain, the tourist board cliches. The Britain we live in now was forged in the white heat of the industrial revolution, and peopled by migrations, internal, forced by enclosures and clearances, and international, as Britain rose to become an imperial superpower. That story is implicit in this book.

We meet gurus in suburban sitting rooms; Irish pubs untouched by corporate theming; families of many colours; the ambivalent dreams of skilled workers; the anxieties, the swagger, the ingenuity of the outsider becoming citizen. The characters in these stories come from every section of society, except the international mega rich who own real estate in the city state that purports to be the national's capital. But if those forces, economically and politically dominant, are not characters in these stories, they are present in what is a profoundly political book. Protest, violence, rioting, poverty, de-industrialisation; the whole sense that things could kick off at any time, and probably won't work out for the best haunts this book.

I could happily write an essay length review discussing each story in detail, but in a short review it would be unfair to single out any of the contributors. It is enough to say that this is a well-edited collection of beautifully written stories. Do yourself a favour and get your hands on a copy soon.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
September 24, 2013 – Shelved

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