Kate Tempest “started out as a rapper, toured the spoken word circuit for a number of years and began writing for theatre in 2012“.
She has a powerful, passionate and distinctive voice, and to see her perform is a breathtaking experience – I’ve been in rooms with several hundred people, with the only sounds being her voice and the street/wider festival outside.
In 2014, she released Everybody Down, an album that introduced us to some characters (Harry, Leon, Becky & co), telling us their winding, intertwining stories, based around Tempest’s hometown – Lewisham, South London. The album is chronological, and the last song is, to me, a real cliffhanger. When I found out that she was writing a novel in the same universe, I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.
But the book doesn’t really do that.
The storytelling in the album is necessarily fairly simplistic, but (in true Tempest style), we really feel the motivation of the characters and flavour of the situation through her use of words. The book re-covers the ground from the whole album, changing certain aspects, fleshing others out, and only adding a little extra to the end in terms of plot. And it’s STILL a cliffhanger!
In an article for The Guardian, Tempest confessed that “[i]f you are in love with language, it’s difficult to look at words as pegs to hang a plot from” (by the way, definitely read that article, it’s a beaut). And The Bricks That Built The Houses has long passages of gorgeously shaped text, where I can hear her voice reading them back to me. But it still feels like a less sparse, less powerful committing of the album to novel form to bring it to a wider audience.
The main change from the album seems to bring an (emotionally) autobiographical aspect to the story: Harry’s androgenic, awkward presence brings Tempest herself back into the room. As if any of us could bring ourselves to look away from her in the first place.
It wasn’t the book I was hoping for and hyping up to myself, but I did enjoy it and I still hope there are further installments in the future – if there are, I will be pre-ordering the signed hardbacks of those, too.