Kerry Hadley-Pryce has become synonymous with menacing fiction from the Black Country.
In this delicious tale a funeral provides the impetus for a claustrophobic narrative packed with threat and paranoia.
Guy Flood returns to the Black Country with his girlfriend, Alison, to attend his identical twin brother’s funeral.
The reasons he left, and the secrets he left behind, slowly become clear.
A chilling dark fiction, dominated by unknown and all-seeing narrator.
Kerry was born in the Black Country.
She worked nights in a Wolverhampton petrol station before becoming a secondary schoolteacher.
She wrote her first novel whilst studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School.
She is currently a PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University, researching Psychogeography and Black Country Writing .
‘‘I was born in the Black Country and have lived there most of my life. I’ve always felt that it, and the texture of its part-industrial, part-rural landscape provokes a unique sensation of place, and I try to emulate that in my writing. In God’s Country, the Black Country doesn’t just operate as background scenery, but as a resonant, ever-present figure, and my characters have to deal with that”
“She’ll say she wants to tell you this story, and in the act of telling it, she knows she’ll probably leave some gaps, but in the act of you reading it, you’ll give it shape. And maybe you might want to consider this: Can you imagine your whole life being about the worst thing you ever did? Think about that now”
“They stopped at Strensham Services. She likes motorway service stations, Alison does. She likes the transience of it all, the brutalism of the look of them, the strange grace of that, the way lives collide in a way they wouldn’t, couldn’t, elsewhere, the possibility of chance, the movement. She likes the fairground quality of the layout, the way the food smells, the trancelike look on the faces of the staff, unlike staff anywhere else”
“And anyway, memory is an unreliable thing. Looking back almost always colours things differently”
“It was, given everything, she’ll say, a brave thing for him to do, move away. Alison, anyway will say that. Perhaps, actually, it was braver for him to return”
“She’ll tell how she’d read somewhere – or perhaps Guy had told her – that the enclosed towns of the Black Country have a city’s landscape and a village’s culture”
“Perhaps she was thinking that we’re only ever one layer away from our old selves, that our old selves might have been scraped or washed off or covered up, and a new self is scribed on top. But how permanent is that?”
“She’ll say she was sure she could hear somebody in the room next door as if memories were embedded, somehow, in the bricks and mortar of the place, but that the whole place was a palimpsest now”
“black by day and red by night”
Guy Flood and his partner Alison, are driving up the M5 towards the Black Country. Guy is returning to his roots for the first time in many years. However, for him this is not a journey he wanted to make, particularly given the circumstances, to attend the funeral of his twin brother, Ivan.
Alison knows little of Guy’s past, as when she first met him, he was homeless, living on the streets and in quite a bad way, both mentally and physically. In recent times, they have both been working at the offices of the same newspaper, where Guy has risen from journalist to the position of editor and Alison is one of his reporters.
They have faced nothing but delays in their journey and tempers are getting a little frayed around the edges as Guy nears his destination. With Alison desperately trying to keep a secret from him, knowing full well that she shouldn’t really be making such an arduous journey and feeling worse by the minute, both of them are pleased when the end of their trek is in sight.
Being a ‘southerner’, Alison doesn’t know what to expect from Guy’s home, as he has only told her that he lived on a farm. She certainly isn’t prepared for neither the remoteness, nor the condition of the property and its meagre stock-holding. But bad first impressions are only set to become more shocking when she sees the inside of the building and meets the rest of Guy’s family – His sister Donna, his father Flood, the hired help Greebo, and baby Ivan, who seems to have been visited upon Donna as if by divine intervention and appears to Alison, to be badly neglected. Just to freak Alison out even more, Ivan’s body is lying in an open casket in the parlour.
The pair had planned to drive up, attend the funeral and then head back home, all in the same day. However, somehow, Guy had got the day of the funeral mixed up and it now turns out that they will have to stay overnight. Despite their protestations, Flood insists they stay in the squalor of the farmhouse, with no hot water or heating and the threat of a compulsory purchase order hanging over the rest of the building which hasn’t already fallen into ruination.
Whether it is Guy himself who confides in Alison, during that, the longest, strangest night of her life, about some of the terrible things events which made him leave his past behind him and has made him determined that he should never father children, or whether the unseen voice of the narrator is a tangible entity, it never becomes clear. However, little by little Guy appears to revert to his former self, as he begins to become as one with his surroundings and is almost imperceptibly drawn back into what remains of his disparate, morbid family. The old Guy, she discovers, isn’t one she really likes and the past never really has a habit of staying in the past, if you stir the pot too deeply.
When, as she is nosying around Ivan’s room, Alison discovers a rough bound copy of a book, written by his brother Guido (Guy) Flood, titled simply ‘God’s Country’, which she takes with a view to reading it, to try and understand what makes this man of hers tick. But will she ever get the chance to follow through, or even to make good her escape?
Oh, My Goodness! The second book in a row where the ending has left me hanging, lost for words and not able to form a single coherent thought – How much do these authors think a reader can take?
I have no idea what has just happened to me. I feel as though I have been transported to the darkest place of my worst nightmares, swallowed up and trapped in twenty-four hours of time that stood still, chewed up until I have had all the feelings and emotions sucked out of me, then spat back out and expected to get on with my life.
I know that I have just finished reading an amazing, very bold and chilling work of literary and societal fiction, with more than a passing nod to the undertones of horror I experienced, and which was simply begging to be devoured in a single reading session. However, I also realise that my journey of terror and disbelief will stay with me for a very long time and that it will probably take me every one of those precious moments to process the experience.
This was a short story of less than two hundred pages, which seemed to go on forever and yet, when the time came, I didn’t want to be over. I wanted, no needed, a definitive outcome, written down for me in black and white, so that I might possibly attempt to understand my mental torture. But that was not to be… and so I continue to wonder and speculate!
Told in the cold, harsh voice of an unknown entity, who claims to be visualising and relaying events through Alison’s unbelieving eyes, increasingly disturbed state of mind and growing feelings of paranoia. It certainly doesn’t take her long to work out why Guy is determined never to have a family of his own, although she probably wishes she had never discovered the reasons for that particular truth. The narrative is assertive, complex and thankfully broken down into digestible chapters, which offered me space to re-group and draw breath every so often.
Multi-layered, textured and highly charged words imbued an all-pervading and invasively cloying atmosphere you could have cut with a knife, together with a latent and barely contained sense of danger concealed beneath the surface, which set the scene and tone of this storyline, from the first, to the very last word. Secrets upon secrets were revealed about how this reclusive family lived their lives just above the bar of respectability and hidden violence. Yet somehow, at the same time, through some outstanding nuances and shades of dark and light in the narrative and dialogue, author Kerry Hadley-Pryce surprisingly manages to turn this dour, depressing, claustrophobic manifestation, into an often poignant, emotional and evocative work of fiction, although one which is totally devoid of even the smallest hint of levity or spontaneity.
There is a wonderfully considered and authentically drawn cast of characters, who literally to a person, made my skin crawl. I wouldn’t have trusted any one of them and, as it transpires, I would have been quite right not to do so. Complex, lugubrious and almost morbidly morose, never at peace with themselves and prone to volatile outbursts, they blended invisibly into their surroundings, making them almost as one with the fabric of the place.
For an ‘armchair traveller’, such as myself, who has only the vaguest notion of what areas might constitute the Black Country, Kerry uses the full palette at her disposal to paint a wonderful picture of a physical landscape which can be as beautiful and inspiring, as it is overwhelmingly dark and dreary, just as though time had stood still in a place that man forgot.
In Kerry’s own words:
“Try Googling ‘map of the Black Country’ and see what you get. Confused, is what you get. It’s neither North nor South, city or countryside. It is a place without borders. And, see, that’s the point: an important aspect of the Black Country is that it is borderless, unmappable, maybe a little bit weird, a little bit exclusive. People argue about where, or what, it is, and that is part of its unique identity”
So, there we have it. I was taken to a place I didn’t want to be, to meet people I didn’t want to be with and to learn things I didn’t want to know. Having been scared out of my wits, I was only too happy to make my escape relatively unscathed. But perversely, I loved every minute of it!
What always makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every new book I read, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by authors who fire my imagination, stir my emotions and stimulate my senses. This story definitely had the power to evoke so many feelings, that I’m sure I won’t have felt the same way about it as the last reader, nor indeed, the next.
A complimentary PDF copy of this book for review, was made available by Helen Richardson PR and Salt Publishing
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion, and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However, some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well-deserved 5 out of 5 stars!
Thank you for taking the time to read my review, I appreciate your support.
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