Telegraph Book Club - Reading Matter

editorial image

Over a thousand books have been distributed to children across the city this Christmas by a new project launched only five weeks ago. The Sheffield Book Flood issued a call to help them provide books to some of the most vulnerable children in the city, and have been overwhelmed by the response. They send their thanks in this fortnight’s Literary City.

This read of the fortnight is by Sheffield-based writer Desiree Reynolds, and it’s a great one to immerse yourself in for long Christmas reading sessions.

We also have a fantastic reader review of Fiona Mozley’s Elmet.

I’d love to hear from you with your reader reviews, or a problem you’d like me to solve with a book. Get in touch on or contact me on twitter @AnnaCaig

Seduce by Desiree Reynolds

‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ So begins Tolstoy’s epic novel Anna Karenina. And it is tension, hypocrisy, complexity and lies: all the things that make an unhappy family unhappy, that lie at the heart of Seduce, the 2013 debut novel of Sheffield-based writer Desiree Reynolds.
The book has a deceptively simple premise: we’re at the funeral wake for the eponymous fish seller and prostitute, and her friends, family and enemies have gathered to grieve, gossip and judge each other and the dead lady. Through the various first person narratives of these people that love, hate and are frightened of her, we piece together the life of this formidable woman. We even hear from Seduce herself, attending her own funeral from beyond the grave.
We delve back into the lives of her mother and grandmother, learn how she came to be a ‘lampi’, the name given to both the fish sellers and the prostitutes who often do both jobs, and twist and turn our way through revelations about her family towards an ending that is nothing short of beautiful. The story is bookended with reflections on what a soul might be which manage to be both vivid and moving, whilst avoiding sentimentality completely.
Set on the fictional Church Island in the Caribbean, the book is written in patois. Like getting into a too-hot bath, at first it seems too much: I am going to struggle with this; I don’t know if I can cope. But then it becomes enjoyable and even strangely comforting. The language is part of the joy of the book; full immersion into this world. It has a poetic, soothing quality, despite the sometimes bleak subject matter; I found myself luxuriating in long soaks in Reynolds’s vernacular, often enjoying the words as much as the story.
This is the sort of book that makes all other books seem boring.

Reynolds covers a huge amount of ground, and with multiple narrators who each have their own unique voice it’s a wonder the story feels as coherent as it does. But the plot is handled masterfully; twists are given just enough foreshadowing to make it all feel satisfying.

It is a treat to have such a gratifying plot in a book with an unconventional style and structure.

As the weather in Sheffield continues to be cold, wet and miserable, you could do a lot worse than submerge yourself in the hot, bewitching world of Seduce.

Reader Reviews:

Elmet by Fiona Mozley

Fiona says: Elmet is an impressive debut – a lyrical and atmospheric novel narrated by Danny, a gentle boy.

He lives with Cathy his older and stronger (in every way) sister and their Daddy in a cottage they built by themselves in a remote copse.

Daddy (John) is a man of contrasts.

He is a huge and successful bare knuckle fighter with a strong streak of violence, but also a tender carer for his children.

He has created a loving home for them after his wife deserted the family. The family are devoted to each other and feel no need for many other people. They live on the fringes of society, foraging and hunting for themselves. John wants to protect his children from the darkness he has found in the world, but by doing so makes them vulnerable to what he most fears because they are so different. However strong they are individually and as a family unit, they are unable to prevent evil entering their lives in the shape of a local landowner who wants the land their cottage is built on, and they become the victims of an appalling crime.

The descriptions of nature are wonderful and evocative – I could vividly envisage the landscape.

There are some dramatic scenes that burned themselves onto my brain and have stayed with m for a long time. I enjoyed Mozley’s use of dialect.

The characters came to mean a lot to me, particularly Danny and Cathy.

I loved it.

Literacy City the Sheffield Connection

Over a thousand books have been distributed to children across Sheffield who would not otherwise receive one this Christmas by a new project launched only five weeks ago.

The Sheffield Book Flood has had a successful first year, giving books to sixteen charities and organisations that support children and families that will, in turn, pass the books onto individual children.

Co-Founder of the Sheffield Book Flood, Victoria Penman, says: “We have been absolutely blown away by the generosity of people across Sheffield. We thought we would start small in 2017, but we have been able to reach so many more children than we thought possible.

“I would like to say an enormous thank you to everyone who has donated money or a book over the past few weeks. We issued a call to the people of Sheffield to help us provide books for some of the most vulnerable children in the city, and they have surpassed our wildest expectations.”

The idea of the Sheffield Book Flood comes from the Icelandic tradition of giving everyone a book on Christmas Eve.

One of the organisations that has received books is Baby Basics, a local charity that provides second hand equipment to mothers and families in Sheffield who are struggling to meet the financial and practical burden of looking after a new baby or young child.

Hannah Peck of Baby Basics, says: “The books received from Sheffield Book Flood were absolutely beautiful brand new books chosen with real care for the age groups our service reaches. The books went out with health visitors, social workers and other agencies working with disadvantaged families. Many commented that these books may well be the only books in the home and were delighted to be able to hand them out.

“The Sheffield Book Flood has been a joy for Baby Basics to be part of, to be able to give away gifts for children to unwrap at Christmas is always fun, and knowing that they were perfectly suited to the families was just fantastic. Good books aid good development and we have loved seeing the people of Sheffield support the Book Flood and bring so many books to little ones this Christmas. Thank you Sheffield Book Flood.”

Co-Founder of the Sheffield Book Flood, Sioned Mair-Richards, says: “It is impossible to measure all the outcomes of giving a book to a child, but the objectives behind the project are to spread kindness, and happiness, and to hopefully make a contribution to improving literacy rates.

“We hope the project will grow year on year to work closely with charities to be able to give even more tailored and personal books as presents to children at Christmas.”

To contact the Book Flood team email or contact via twitter @bookflooding or facebook @SheffieldBookFlood