Sometimes an author event can be the perfect nudge needed for you to pick up a book you have been meaning to read for ages. This is certainly the case with Catherine O’Flynn’s second novel ‘The News Where You Are‘ which I have been ‘meaning to read’ (those immortal words) since it came out after I read, loved and admired her debut novel ‘What Was Lost‘ back in those hard to imagine pre-blogging days.
Frank is a local television presenter in the Midlands where he is seen as a bit of a joke, because like his predecessor Phil has built his career on making rather lame knowing jokes on air. The only difference is that Phil went from Franks job to becoming a huge tv celebrity, until he was killed in a hit and run. Phil’s death becomes another addition to the deaths that Frank becomes rather obsessed by, only these other dead people are the lonely souls forgotten by most who have no one not successful TV personalities, and who, apart from Frank, have no one show up at their funerals.
This could be easily enough of a story for a novel yet Catherine O’Flynn adds much more into the mix by bringing in Franks family. We meet his wife Andrea and daughter Mo, who show that Frank isn’t some death obsessed oddball, as well as his widowed mother Maureen who lives in a home. Maureen, who is one minute heartbreakingly sad one minute and hilariously wicked and vicious the next, adds a whole new strand to the story as does Franks dead architect father. Maureen represents the loss of youth and seeming happiness, his father a loss in general but as the buildings he designed start to be knocked down O’Flynn brings up the subject of the modern world and it’s obsession with ‘out with the old and in with the new’ both in the form of people and in the forms of the objects all around us.
I am hoping I am not making the novel sound too melancholy as whilst there are some heartbreaking moments (I would never have thought a scene at a car valet in an industrial estate could actually choke me up, but O’Flynn made it happen) it does have some moments of high humour and genuine celebration of life.
There are three other things that make this book stand out and excel. Birmingham is not used as a setting enough in fiction, and is a city at once beautiful and absolutely not, O’Flynn embraces this and makes the reader. The cast of characters in the forefront are marvellous and those on the periphery too are wonderful; the bad joke writer, the forgotten wife, the tv wannabe and the ladies in the bakery, whoever they are they live and breath. Adding the mystery element of a hit and run is just the final master stroke. In fact I kept thinking of Kate Atkinson only less mystery, more its surroundings and the people it effects even though you don’t think it would.
It would be easiest to describe ‘The News Where You Are‘ as a tale of a local tv news reader, who is obsessed with the past and lonely people being forgotten, trying to discover the mystery behind his predecessor, and now friend’s, hit and run whilst also trying to deal with his parental relationships I would make it sound like modern day mystery meets family drama. It is, yet that summation simply doesn’t do this superb novel justice. This is a novel brimming with as many ideas and characters as it brims with joy, sadness and comedy. It’s a book that encompasses human life and all those things, emotionally and all around it physically, and celebrates them. I loved it and will be recommending this, if rather belatedly, to anyone and everyone.
Who else has read Catherine O’Flynn and what did you think? I should mention I saw her talking about the book as part of Manchester Literature Festival and if you pop to the sixth episode of The Readers here you can hear me interview her after the event, and catch up with all the other events I went to and authors I met.