This is the second stage of finding the best Bristol novel ever written and some themes are coming through quite clearly: Drugs, violence, the seedier side of life, slavery, and sailing. This post provides a summary of each novel I discovered. I have selected 40 books for this longlist and have left reasons for disqualifications.
Thank you Goodreads and various publishers for the summaries.
Ames, Laurel – Castaway (1993)
This is a Harlequin* historical novel – “The sea in all its mystery had long been home to Nathan Gaites. Until he found himself charting the turbulent waters of family life — and facing Margaret Weston, a woman of rare beauty and unfathomable depths! Margaret was determined that no man would be her master. Yet Nathan promised her freedom — and boundless joy — if she would only submit to the growing passion that flared between them …
*Formulaic romance with a pre-defined type of ending. Nothing wrong with that but this is more likely to conform to a ‘Romance Novel’ genre rather than a Bristol Novel.
— The first in a trilogy Only Time Will Tell, the first in a story of one family across generations, across oceans, from heartbreak to triumph.The epic tale of Harry Clifton’s life begins in 1920, with the words “I was told that my father was killed in the war.”
A dock worker in Bristol, Harry never knew his father, but he learns about life on the docks from his uncle, who expects Harry to join him at the shipyard once he’s left school. But then an unexpected gift wins him a scholarship to an exclusive boys’ school, and his life will never be the same again.
Austen, Jane – Northanger Abbey (1818) (Blaize Castle is destination for an abortive expedition in Northanger Abbey). This isn’t a Bristol novel as the reference to Bristol is too slight.
Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they would navigate the girl-less sixth form together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit.
Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they all swore to stay friends for life.Now Tony is in middle age. He’s had a career and a single marriage, a calm divorce. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove.
Rachel Waring is deliriously happy. Out of nowhere, a great-aunt leaves her a Georgian mansion in another city—and she sheds her old life without delay. Gone is her dull administrative job, her mousy wardrobe, her downer of a roommate.
She will live as a woman of leisure, devoted to beauty, creativity, expression, and love. Once installed in her new quarters, Rachel plants a garden, takes up writing, and impresses everyone she meets with her extraordinary optimism. But as Rachel sings and jokes the days away, her new neighbors begin to wonder if she might be taking her transformation just a bit too far.In Wish Her Safe at Home, Stephen Benatar finds humor and horror in the shifting region between elation and mania. His heroine could be the next-door neighbor of the Beales of Grey Gardens or a sister to Jane Gardam’s oddball protagonists, but she has an ebullient charm all her own
John Cabot discovers Newfoundland in his wife Mathye’s words (in letters to Giovanni, her sons, her friend Isabetta, her cousin’s wife Paola, etc. and in diary entries) with alternate perspectives offered by her sons, when they grow and leave home and correspond with each other and with their parents.
5. Brown, Chris – Guilty Tiger
Merck cocaine, Keith Richards’ drug of choice is back. But there’s one big difference to the uber coca that fuelled the Rolling Stones tour in 1975 – it’s been modified so it’s undetectable in the human blood system. It’s already found its way into the Premiership and the Olympics might just as well be cancelled.
Steve Allen’s a regular sort of guy. He pays his taxes and obeys the rules – mostly.He’s disillusioned with modern football and the state of the country, not buying into anyone’s ‘Big Society’, but it wasn’t always that way. Back in his youth when he and his friends, ‘The Big Five’, battled on the football terraces they were respected, revered… and feared.
A surprise friend request on Facebook reunites Steve with Kirsty, his girlfriend from those halcyon skinhead days. Unexpectedly she offers him and his mates not only the opportunity to hit back at the scum on Britain’s streets, but also at the person responsible for importing the insidious Merck into the country – someone he knows all too well from his dark, troubled past. He now has the chance for not only revenge, but also redemption, and to deliver football back to its rightful owners – the fans. Can Steve Allen not only save his own soul, but football’s as well?
It’s the 1970s. The hair is shaved, the music is funky, and the soccer is violent. Every Saturday, legions of soccer fans take to the terraces to do battle with each other. Chris Brown was in the thick of it. The regulation haircut, clip-on braces, shrunk Levis, and bovver boots—he had the look that every self-respecting bovver boy tried for, and he launched himself into the culture of the decade with a passion.
This is a story of those times. It is a story of the adrenaline-packed Saturday outings, a story of Tonik suits, terraces and The Maytals, of race riots, safety pins, and The Clash by way of P.Funk, platform shoes, and discos. This is a true story of the most maligned decade in British history.
(Recommended as one of the best Bristol novels by Richard Jones from Tangent Publishing.)
In this award-winning but controversial novel Burgess tells the moving story of two runaway teens who turn to a life of squatting and anarchism, ultimately falling into the dark embrace of heroin addiction.
Frances Burney’s first and most enduringly popular novel is a vivid, satirical, and seductive account of the pleasures and dangers of fashionable life in late eighteenth-century London. As she describes her heroine’s entry into society, womanhood and, inevitably, love, Burney exposes the vulnerability of female innocence in an image-conscious and often cruel world where social snobbery and sexual aggression are played out in the public arenas of pleasure-gardens, theatre visits, and balls.
But Evelina’s innocence also makes her a shrewd commentator on the excesses and absurdities of manners and social ambitions–as well as attracting the attention of the eminently eligible Lord Orville.
Evelina, comic and shrewd, is at once a guide to fashionable London, a satirical attack on the new consumerism, an investigation of women’s position in the late eighteenth century, and a love story. The new introduction and full notes to this edition help make this richness all the more readily available to a modern reader.
In Deluded Your Sailors, the culture industry is a weapon, a victim, and an opportunity, depending on the perspective of two main figures: the unsteady but perceptive Nichole Wright, whose discovery of crucial documents threatens a government-funded tourism project, and the politely menacing, shape-shifting Reverend Elias Winslow.
And in parallel storytelling: an early eighteenth-century girl, daughter of a nameless prostitute, winds up first as object of depraved pleasure, espionage agent and courier, and finally captain of a Salem trading vessel. Her desperately threaded disguise holds until her unacknowledged past crashes into her frail present. Trapped, and finally forced to reveal many things kept hidden, she refuses to be exploited any further. But her defiance exacts a terrible cost.
In the fall of 1611, John Guy prepares to return from his colony in Cupers Cove, Newfoundland, to Bristol, England, where he plans to woo Eliza Egret, the daughter of one of the principal stockholders of the colonization venture. Guy must return, however, with a prisoner, a mysterious young man named Bartholomew, who is responsible for burning the colony’s stored grain. As the presence of a convict might cause the backers to question his leadership, Guy chooses a radical course — to use the silken-tongued Bartholomew as an ally. So Guy and his companion enter a tale of intrigue and danger reminiscent of the revenge tragedies of the Jacobean period.
Partly set in Bristol and South West, though mostly London. Main character is Scipio Africanus, African buried at Henbury.
Bristolian author Eugene Byrne has postulated a world in which an atomic war in 1962 has caused the decline in population and civilization in much of the Western World. Rather than a post-apocalyptic tale, however, Things Unborn tells the story of an England which is rebuilding its position in the world, aided by a strange phenomenon which Byrne never attempts to explain. In his post-nuclear world, those who have been killed before their time (and before the war) are being re-born in seemingly random circumstances. (from SFsite.com)
12. Carter, Angela – ‘The Bristol Trilogy’ (link):Shadow Dance (1966), Several Perceptions (1968)
and Love (1971).
“The Bristol Trilogy”, Angela Carter — In Shadow Dance (1966), Several Perceptions (1968) and Love (1971)
Angela Carter offers a stylish look at the
sinister underside of Bristol in the Swinging Sixties.
Love documents Annabel, her husband Lee and his unpredictable brother Buzz through a myriad of relationships, and unlabelled connections. It is a book about love between the three protagonists, which despite their introspection, is rarely named or categorised. (see link)
CJ Carver lives near Bath but it doesn’t look like any of her books are based in Bristol.
13. Cusk, Rachel – Arlington Park (2010)
Rachel Cusk doesn’t seem too well liked but her books are meant to be based in Bristol.
Arlington Park follows five women as they travel through a typical day. As they prepare breakfast, do the school run, buy groceries, clean the house, these wives and mothers are captured in reflective states, wondering what happened to the version of themselves they’d imagined in their earlier life. Juliet, a frustrated part-time teacher; Amanda, desperate to connect with the other mums at the school gate, Solly, pregnant with her fourth child and envious of the string of single women who rent the room at the top of the house, Maisie, recently arrived from London, her politics at odds with her new neighbours and Christine, more pragmatic than the others, managing to steer a steadier course through frustration. Cusk’s unflinching examination of women’s lives raises the question: have they been liberated at all?
Dickens, Charles – Pickwick Papers (1836)
I initially added Pickwick Papers because of the mention of a Clifton doctor but this isn’t enough.
The extract sets the book in Bristol at the start but I’m not sure it continues with the same setting.
It’s set twenty years ago against a backdrop of dreamy Cornish summers, a place where childhood friendship becomes young love, where love becomes obsession, and where obsession ultimately ends in betrayal and a tragic death.
This magical novel traces a web of memories back through the years from the present day, ultimately showing that no matter how much you might try to forget the past, the past never forgets you…
Against the backdrop of inner-city Bristol, Lucy English paints a harsh picture of broken dreams, lost l oves and the alienation of selfish people. Leah, mother of t hree and in an unhappy marriage, falls in love with child-abuse survivor Bailey.
Set mostly in Bristol between the 1950s and today.
A novel connecting disperate women at different times in their lives, and in history. Sylvia, a brilliant and successful eye surgeon is nevertheless amazed to find herself pregnant, despite taking no precautions. Iris, a timid young woman in love with a man from a different social stratum. And Ruby, a 1950’s housewife who receives poison pen letters, which she believes she thoroughly deserves. Linking these women is a fascinating thread that weaves their lives together.
‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’
The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man’s descent into mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.
Flood, C.J. – Infinite Sky (2013)
CJ Flood lives in Bristol but, as she writes, “The whole story unfolds in a small village on the outskirts of the Peak District in Derbyshire” (link).
Set in the late 18th century, this powerful historical novel focuses on the city of Bristol and its connections with the slave trade at a time when the abolitionist movement is gathering momentum in England.
A well-respected Bristol councillor is found murdered and when looking into the case young trainee attorney Richard Stourton discovers that the victim had secret links with the anti-slave trade movement in London. Was this the reason for his untimely death?
The devastating consequences of the slave trade are explored through the powerful but impossible attraction of well-born Frances and her slave, Mehuru.
* Whenever this work was recommended as a Bristol novel there was usually an aside about how the story wasn’t exactly accurate. (See similar)
Jenny Cooper, newly appointed as Coroner for the Severn Vale, is plunged headfirst into a trail of murder, corruption and dark secrets. One of the first pages includes a quote from a fictional Bristol Evening Post.
When lawyer, Jenny Cooper, is appointed Severn Vale District Coroner, she’s hoping for a quiet life and space to recover from a traumatic divorce, but the office she inherits from the recently deceased Harry Marshall contains neglected files hiding dark secrets and a trail of buried evidence.
Could the tragic death in custody of a young boy be linked to the apparent suicide of a teenage prostitute and the fate of Marshall himself? Jenny’s curiosity is aroused. Why was Marshall behaving so strangely before he died? What injustice was he planning to uncover? And what caused his abrupt change of heart?
This Is Future Bristol, where A young engineer must try to avert a nightmare future Activists and hackers take nanotech and recycling slightly too far The city fights back against a tidal wave of crime A new drug and riots spark an unexpected renewal Present meets future as urban explorers encounter unforeseen hazards Pirates and ruthless executives battle for supremacy above the sunken streets Humanity’s heirs cling onto survival in a world of toxic waste The last living human must make an agonizing choice A broken child may change the world. Nine short stories by leading (local) British authors including BSFA and Philip K. Dick Award-nominee Liz Williams, Interzone Poll-winner Gareth L Powell, Stephanie Burgis, Jim Mortimore, Joanne Hall, Nick Walters and Christina Lake
Just after lunch on a Tuesday in April, nine feet underwater, police diver Flea Marley closes her gloved fingers around a human hand.
The fact that there’s no body attached is disturbing enough. Yet more disturbing is the discovery, a day later, of the matching hand. Both have been recently amputated, and the indications are that the victim was still alive when they were removed.
DI Jack Caffery has been newly seconded to the Major Crime Investigation Unit in Bristol. He and Flea soon establish that the hands belong to a boy who has recently disappeared.
Their search for him – and for his abductor – leads them into the darkest recesses of Bristol’s underworld, where drug addiction is rife, where street-kids sell themselves for a hit, and where an ancient evil lurks; an evil that feeds off the blood – and flesh – of others.
The Second World War is now over and people must count the cost. Three women from very different backgrounds meet when they find themselves on Bristol Temple Meads station waiting for the return of their loved ones. Edna’s fiance Colin comes home crippled. Charlotte’s doctor husband, who was a loving and gentle father, returns a violent, disturbed man with no love for her and even less for their children. Polly, who is waiting for her GI boyfriend Aaron, is once again disappointed when he doesn’t arrive. Adjusting to men who are very changed and, in Polly’s case, to no man at all, is the core of this story. However, during the war years, the women have had to cope. They too have changed, and they harbor secrets that would be best kept.
— A Penny for Tomorrow (2003)
This follows on from The Rest of Our Lives with the lives of its three heroines. It’s Coronation Year, 1953, a new beginning. Like many cities, Bristol is patching itself up after the war, while refugees who fought for the allies are seeking sanctuary in Britain. Charlotte tries to forget her wartime love and accept the shortcomings of her marriage. Edna has three beautiful children and will do anything to protect her brood but hasn’t allowed for the effect of a deadly, twentieth-century disease. Polly still hopes for an easier, more glamorous life, but with her irrepressible young daughter and her charming tricky husband, will things improve?
24. Lane, Lizzie – Wartime Brides(2012)
The war is over…but for three very different Bristol women anxiously awaiting their loved ones return, the story is only just beginning. “Wartime Brides” offers a fascinating insight into post-war family life.
** This sounds very similar to her other novels.
Partly set in Bristol. I don’t think it’s set enough to count.
Reclusive photographer Rob Fossick has come adrift both from society and his creative urge. But when his mother dies, Rob is suddenly presented with an unwanted yet intriguing problem to solve – minutes before her death, he discovers that she was hoping to deliver a package to an enigmatic character called Mr Satoshi, but the name and the contents of the parcel are shrouded in mystery.
So begins a quest that takes Rob out of his isolation and plunges him, anxious and unprepared, into the urban maelstrom of Tokyo. With the help of a colourful group of new acquaintances – an octogenarian amateur detective; a beautiful ‘love hotel’ receptionist; an ex-sumo wrestler obsessed with Dolly Parton – Rob edges closer to uncovering the mystery surrounding Mr Satoshi, and in the process comes face to face with some demons of his own.
Robin Llewellyn is a private eye. More or less. Part time really, while he gets on with the full-time job of drinking himself to death on the mean streets of Bristol. He’s one step away from the gutter when he gets one last case.
Nikki Grant has her whole life ahead of her when she discovers she is pregnant. But she welcomes the news with joy—the baby will be a wonderful addition to the happy household she shares with the love of her life, Spencer James, and three close friends. Nikki’s parents have a very different view of what the baby is going to mean to their daughter’s future. Deeply disapproving of Spencer and the friends Nikki has chosen, their frustrations reach breaking point when Nikki refuses to be controlled by them any more. A rift opens up between them that breaks their hearts, but they are all too proud to back down. Baby Zac arrives, and with Spencer’s career taking off they are ready to make a big move to London.
But sudden events rush them down a very different road, and nothing could have prepared them for where they find themselves—a frightening and alien place with Zac at the center and Nikki desperately trying to hold onto her baby, her life, and her dreams. As they become more embroiled in a world they cannot escape, the love between Nikki and her son is put to the kind of test no parent should ever have to face.
Mike Manson’s brilliant first novel is set against the background of slacker culture in Bristol in the long, hot summer of 1976.
Max doesn’t work. Now he’s been offered a job – at the dole office. The hot summer of ’76. Mega-flares. The dole office. Cider. And a riot.
Plucky beat reporter Holly Colshannon has a flair for the dramatic, a nose for trouble, and the remarkable ability to smile through any indignity—though her latest assignment is about to test her mettle. Newly “promoted” to crime reporter for the Bristol Gazette, she must shadow the unsmiling (though undeniably delicious) Detective James Sabine through his action-packed days, and then capture all the danger and thrills of a cop’s life in a daily column for the rag.
29. Maughan, Tim – Paintwork (2011)
Augmented reality street artist 3Cube wants to break into the mainstream, and as one of the best in the graffiti mecca of Bristol he stands a real chance. Except that someone, some unseen rival, seems set on using even the most old-fashioned of methods to stop him from succeeding
30. Mayhew, Daniel – Life and How to Live it (2004)
Serpico are the best and most unproductive band in Bristol. All that changes when a week-long sickie brings the greatest album ever made into the world.
Reilly, all home-made T-shirts, red wine addiction and occasional musical genius, is the sort of person you end up hating: but there’s something to him, some kind of honesty, that saves him. He breathes life into Serpico, his astounding voice elevating them to potential rock gods. Jacob, his flat-mate and band partner, wants this status in his own life, but with Reilly’s unpredictability and charismatic lunacy, the transformation from layabout to rock god isn’t easy, or maybe even possible.
The body of a young woman is found at Severn Beach in this gripping debut novel – but how can you trace a killer who strikes with no motive?
32. Mitchell, Diane – Tainted Legacy and the sequel The Legacy Continues
Spanning two world wars the story follows the lives of three generations of the Stone family, opening with the birth of Mary’s baby, Victoria. Condemned to grinding poverty which destroys her health, Mary vows her daughter will not suffer the same fate, beginning to instill in Victoria an ambition to succeed whatever the cost, only to die tragically a few years later.
Adopted by wealthy relatives, the young Victoria captivates her uncle – but the legacy he bequeaths her will condemn future generations to unimagined pain and suffering as, with single minded determination, Victoria follows her mother’s dream for her.
But will it turn into a nightmare from which there is no escape?
Moggach, Deborah – These Foolish Things
Moggach attended the University of Bristol but this book does not mention Bristol. False Hope.
It’s hard to flirt when sequins are chafing your bits…
Injured pole dancer Matt Lovell meets attractive radiographer Sal when he’s in casualty for an x-ray. Trouble is, Matt’s firefighter outfit is pretty convincing, and the longer he keeps up the pretence the harder it will be to reveal the naked truth: that there’s nothing underneath his costume but a sequin-covered thong!
Genre: gay erotica, with a smidgen of romance.
Maybe not. (It’s available for free on Amazon Kindle)
The story, told in first-person narrative, is set in 1985 and chronicles the misadventures of student Brian Jackson in his first year at an unnamed university. The film was set at the University of Bristol so it just might be set in Bristol.
‘Police are searching today for a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl who disappeared a week ago from her home in the totterdown area of Bristol.’ Actress Kate Creech hears the new with alarm – her niece, Maisie, is fifteen and lives in Totterdown …When another girl’s corpse is found in a local part the Bristol police suspect Maisie’s dad, an odd character who gathers young people to him like a magnet.
Even though Bristol is out of his jurisdiction, Detective Inspector John Bright can’t stay away – Kate is there, rehearsing As You Like It, and he adores Maisie as though she were his own. Bright, off his own patach, resorts to his own unofficial methods of investigation, methods which unearth some uncomfortable facts and lead him to a sinister young man who is keeping a diary …
Prowse, Philip – Bristol Murder
This is a reader for students of English as a foreign language so it doesn’t really fit in with the whole ‘Bristol novel’ thing.
A truck driver picks up a hitchhiker whose uncle was found murdered. The murder occurred in Bristol.
There is a moment when all hope disappears, all pride is gone, all expectation, all faith, all desire. I own that moment. It belongs to me. That’s when I hear the sound.
The sound of a mind breaking.
It’s not a loud crack like when bones shatter or a spine fractures of a skull collapses. And it’s not something soft and wet like a heart breaking. It’s a sound that makes you wonder how much pain a person can endure; a sound that shatters memories and lets the past leak into the present; a sound so high that only the hounds of hell can hear it.
Can you hear it? Someone is curled up in a tiny ball crying softly into an endless night.
it is an epistolary novel, presented in the form of letters written by six different characters: Matthew Bramble, a Welsh Squire; his sister Tabitha; their niece and nephew, Jery and Lydia Melford; Tabitha’s maid Winifred Jenkins; and Lydia’s suitor, Wilson.
Much of the comedy arises from differences in the descriptions of the same events by different participants. Attributions of motives and descriptions of behaviour show wild variation and reveal much about the character of the teller. The setting, amidst the high-society spa towns and seaside resorts of the 18th century provides his characters with many opportunities for satirical observations on English life and manners.
A story of the slave trade. It was hard to find out much else about this work but many do point out its length.
This may mention Bristol but it’s so hard to find that it doesn’t seem likely that I’ll be able to read it.
The most well-known pirate adventure whose writer is famed to have drunk in the current Hole in the Wall pub just off Queen Square.
Its unforgettable characters include: young Jim Hawkins, who finds himself owner of a map to Treasure Island, where the fabled pirate booty is buried; honest Captain Smollett, heroic Dr. Livesey, and the good-hearted but obtuse Squire Trelawney, who help Jim on his quest for the treasure; the frightening Blind Pew, double-dealing Israel Hands, and seemingly mad Ben Gunn, buccaneers of varying shades of menace; and, of course, garrulous, affable, ambiguous Long John Silver, who is one moment a friendly, laughing, one-legged sea-cook . . .and the next a dangerous pirate leader!
Set in Knowle West and based on his experiences as a social worker, Trewavas’s highly controversial novel is grim, unrelenting and deeply unsettling.
This hard-hitting fiction, told with a distinctive Bristolian voice, tells the story of the Brewer family—mom Lisa, brother Jason, and daughter Shawnie—plus Lisa’s so-called lover, Steve. Over the course of one intense summer, they each tell their own off-kilter version of the events in their lives. Shawnie, just 13, dreams of a normal life: a lock on the bathroom door, clean clothes for school, and no wild parties with her mom as the centerfold. A “diamond of a girl,” she tries to keep the family in order—but prostitution, drink, and violence are eating away at them all, leading towards a horror that’s almost too much to bear.
In dialect voices that create a claustrophobic domestic world, the four residents of Lurgan Walk tell a visceral, darkly humorous tale. This is an unsettling yet compassionate novel about family life gone very wrong—a hell just down the road
It’s 1835, and Bristol has put the dark days of the slave trade behind it. Or has it? A routine investigation leads young lawyer Inigo Bright into a web of murder, corruption and intrigue.
*This was one of the most well-known Bristol novels and recommended the most.
40. White, Tony – Missorts Volume II
First there is the novella by Tony White and then the soundwords project which is a permanent public artwork for Bristol.
An urban soundwork delivered directly to your smartphone as a mobile app, Missorts combines ten location-triggered stories by ten writers set to a newly composed soundtrack. Missorts promises to immerse you in a surprising, new experience of the city.
I’m including the novella but had to mention the soundwork piece too. (With thanks to Tony White for correcting me).
41. Young, E.H. – The Misses Mallett (1922)
– William – A Novel ().
Two of a series of novels set in “Radstowe”, based on the Clifton area of Bristol, “William” is a sharply observed period novel about English family life set in post-WW I England.
With thanks to Andrew Cox from the Bristol Library and Richard Jones from Tangent Publishing for their input.