It’s 2006 in the fictional East London borough of Leytonstow. The UK’s pub smoking ban is about to happen, and thirty-eight-and-a-half year old John Torrington, a mopper and trolley collector at his local DIY store, is secretly in love with the stylish, beautiful, and middle-class barmaid Lois. John and his hapless, strange, and down-on-their-luck friends, Gabby Longfeather and Glyn Hopkins, live in Clements Markham House – a semi-derelict Edwardian villa divided into unsanitary bedsits, and (mis)managed by the shrewd, Dickensian business man, Mr Kapoor.
When Mr Kapoor, in a bizarre and criminal fluke, makes him fabulously credit-worthy, John surprises his friends and colleagues alike by announcing he will organise an amazing ‘urban love revolution’, aka the Dig Street Festival. But when he discovers dark secrets at the DIY store, and Mr Kapoor’s ruthless gentrification scheme for Clements Markham House, John’s plans take several unexpected and worrisome turns…
Funny, original, philosophical, and unexpectedly moving, The Dig Street Festival takes a long, hard, satirical look at modern British life, and asks of us all, how can we be better people?
I’m so delighted to be back with my favourite combo of a Damp Pebbles blog tour for a Louise Walters book! Thank you to Louise for providing me with a digital arc – although I couldn’t resist getting the paperback, which is gorgeous, and includes fabulous photography by the author on the inside covers.
The Dig Street Festival is beyond quirky – it is a surreal, madcap adventure through the streets of the fictional borough of Leytonstow, led by our narrator, John Torrington, a man who finds himself on the fringes of society, and his ‘found family’, Glyn and Gabby, two of the best characters I have come across for a long time.
A lot happens in this book, most of it completely bizarre, and at times it almost feels overstuffed with incidents. But for me, this is all part of the fun – the novel has a breathless excitement that carries you along, no matter how strange things gets. I was very happy to willingly suspend my disbelief and follow John, Glyn and the wonderful, beautiful Gabby as they try to save their crumbling home, Clements Markham House, uncover nefarious schemes at the DIY store where John and Glyn (and briefly, Gabby!) work, and suddenly find themselves artificially rich beyond their wildest dreams.
Dig Street is masses of fun, but it also has both brains and heart. Glyn in particular is a really interesting character – at first I didn’t warm to him, falling head over heels for the childish, naive, gorgeous Gabby instead, but as the novel progressed, Glyn’s eccentric wisdom and oddly peaceful acceptance of his own quirks and mores grew on me, and I think there is something very profound about him as a character. Which seems an odd thing to say about a man whose defining characteristic is his penchant for gentlemen’s magazines of a certain genre, but then, this is an odd book.
The Dig Street Festival is also a brilliant exploration of male friendship, subverting norms and expectations at every turn, and, wonderfully, showing three men who love each other and hug each other and despair of each other with a depth of feeling that is rarely shown in fiction. The trio at the heart of the novel is the emotional core from which all the crazy adventures spiral out, and I loved to see it.
The novel is highly original, and it doesn’t bear direct comparison with much else that I have read, but I was reminded at times of Drew Gummerson’s equally quirky and hilarious Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel, which I read last year. What these books share, I think, is a determination to forge their own path, to explore characters who don’t fit neatly into predefined boxes, and, perhaps most importantly, to have FUN with the story and with language and ideas. It is no coincidence that they’re both published by wonderful indie presses. We need books like this, to push the boundaries, to be playful and funny and wise all at once, to show the beating human heart beneath the oddness. John, Glyn and Gabby (oh Gabby, I’m so fond of you still) may not be the characters you’re expecting from your fiction, but, my god, they are the characters we need.
About the Author
Chris Walsh grew up in Middlesbrough and now lives in Kent. He writes both fiction and non-fiction, an example of which you can read here in May 2020’s Moxy Magazine.
Chris’s debut novel The Dig Street Festival will be published by Louise Walters Books in April 2021.
Chris’s favourite novel is Stoner by John Williams and his favourite novella is The Death of Ivan Illyich by Leo Tolstoy. His top poet is Philip Larkin. He is also a fan of Spike Milligan.
Louise Walters Books: http://bit.ly/3f9jJvz
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/3cakZfQ
Book Depository: http://bit.ly/3caF7yg
Published in paperback and digital formats by Louise Walters Books on 15th April 2021