Black Car Burning is a remarkable debut novel from Helen Mort, an award-winning poet based in Sheffield. We get a unique richness skilfully merged inside one novel.
We get the Peak District from the perspective of climbers. We get beautiful language, undeniably poetic, rich and evocative. We get Sheffield, a multi-faceted city, shamelessly gloomy, flawed, dark but most of all so very, very real. No glitter, no embellishment. Just pure raw instincts, lives, conflicts, deaths.
There is a strong sense of loss and existential loneliness. Lives having to be lived because there is no other option. So our characters try to make the most of it: Alexa, the police officer who faces violence and aggression on a daily basis while on duty in Fir Vale. Despite her best efforts we can’t help but feel her vulnerability. Her partner Caron, who challenges herself to an extremely difficult rock climb. Pete, who was on duty in 1989 at the Hillsborough disaster, witnessed too much to bear without starting to drink heavily.
In Black Car Burning the location is just as important as the human characters. The city of Sheffield lives and breathes and its strong presence permeates the book. Despite the painful and gritty reality, Mort and her descriptive style of writing sees and finds beauty in all this.
To me reading this book felt a bit like watching the first series of ‘This Is England’ with its realism, grimness, the out of place lives of the endearing and memorable characters. Reading Black Car Burning requires time and attention and slowing down. If you can give those to it, you’re in for a treat.