Reprinted from my earlier now defunct Lancaster area blog The Lunecy Review
After two well-received volumes of poetry Lancaster University graduate Jacob Polley’s debut novel Talk Of The Town is a different step not just in the leap from verse to prose, but in its subject matter too.
Set in Carlisle on the last day of the school holidays in 1986, Talk Of The Town is narrated by teenager Chris, whose best friend Arthur has gone missing. Over the course of that final day and night Chris tries to find Arthur, enlisting the help of Gill who allegedly ‘shagged Arthur in the graveyard’ and encountering some of the local ‘big boys’. Hard cases, or maybe just hard cases to a 15 year old. It’s that cusp of maturity that is Polley’s subject, and its a difficult line to walk.
Polley writes in his local Carlisle vernacular, the text is peppered with the likes of ‘hod’ and ‘gan’ yet it is never a distraction, never a difficult read. The poet shows through at times in some of Chris’ florid similes, and this helps build his character. Chris’ language is precisely that of the adolescent who thinks he is adult but knows he is a child, ricocheting from the naïve and clumsy to the self-consciously ‘mature’ and back.
Talk Of The Town is a thriller, with a nice twist or two on the way, about the end of innocence, and perhaps the reclaiming of it. It is a violent novel, without the sheer intense brutality but echoing the corrupted moralities of David Peace’s early work. It is an adult novel regardless of its teen protagonist, in the casual brutality of some scenes, and perhaps its emotions are those of the adult transposed onto the teen at times.
To say that Jacob Polley is an author to watch, of considerable potential, might sound as though this debut isn’t quite up to scratch. Not so, it is a poignant, gripping tale, with an ending of genuine impact.