It’s been a busy few weeks with half term, travel away from home and the day job, so I have not been doing as much reading as I would have liked. This is especially disappointing given that I’d set myself the goal of reading the shortlist for this year’s Women’s Prize! I have been doing a fair bit of driving and running though so at least I’ve been getting through some of them on audio. There is nothing quite like the feel of a book in your hands, but, increasingly, I am finding audio is the way I access most of my reading. Are you finding this too?
Fire Rush by Jacqueline Crooks was the first of the shortlisted books that I picked up and I am so glad I chose the audio version. At its heart is a love for music, specifically dub reggae, and the interconnectedness of the music, the Caribbean culture, the London scene of the 1970s where the book is set, and the idea of music as salvation. Short excerpts of dub reggae are built into the audiobook at key moments and it gives an extra dimension to the text, characters and setting, as well as the pace and tension of the book. This is also not a musical genre I am particularly familiar with, so I definitely would not have ‘heard’ it if I had read the book in hard copy.
The book opens in 1978 in the south London suburb of Norwood, where twenty-something Yamaye lives with her indifferent and sometimes cruel father. Her life seems to be going nowhere and the bleakness of the moment – it was a period of economic stagnation, cultural wilderness and all against a racist backdrop – is tangible. Yamaye lives for music, dub reggae, and spends her weekends at an underground club in the crypt of a church with her friends, sassy Asase and white Irish girl Rumer. There is an ever-present sense of threat from the authorities and most of the characters have had a brush with the law at some point. There is also an ever-present threat of violence, from darker forces operating in this underground world.
At The Crypt, Yamaye meets Moose, a craftsman who works with wood, particularly the teaks and mahoganies from the Caribbean where he is from and where his grandmother still lives. Moose and Yamaye embark on a love affair. He dreams of going back to Jamaica with her and living a free and peaceful life in the country. Yamaye has dreams too, of becoming a DJ, mixing tracks at reggae nights.
All their dreams are shattered, however, by two devastating events: Moose is killed in police custody and Asase is found guilty of murdering Yamaye’s friend and the owner of the record shop she frequents. Events turn quite dark and fearing that her life is in some danger, Yamaye escapes to Bristol where she spends time in a ‘safe house’ which proves to be anything but. She must make a second escape and flees this time to Jamaica, determined to track down Moose’s grandmother, to find out more about her roots, and specifically to try and connect with her late mother who died mysteriously in Ghana when Yamaye was a child. In Jamaica she finds a new lease of life, but also encounters new dangers that will lead her to a final reckoning with forces that want to harm her.
This is a really powerful book which tells a fascinating story. Over a period of five years or so we watch Yamaye grow from being a timid and cowed young woman, oppressed in her own home, to one who finds her inner power through music, love and embracing her true cultural inheritance.
I loved this book. It was both gripping and engaging from start to finish. The audiobook is brilliantly read by Leonie Elliott (the actress who plays Lucille in Call the Midwife) who manages the range of voices and accents with aplomb. This is an example of audio really adding to the experience of the book and I recommend it highly.