Why we love it: The Bricks That Built the Houses is a fast-paced, urban tale about a group of young friends struggling in contemporary London. Its poetic, almost explosive writing style and modern, disillusioned characters are reminiscent of the author’s poetry and rap for which she is drawing huge critical acclaim around the globe.
Harry is an androgynous thirty-year-old woman living in south east London. She and her oldest friend Leon are successfully selling eye-watering amounts of cocaine to the higher echelons of London society, but only until they have enough money to escape their lives – and they’re getting close. Harry’s younger brother Pete is unemployed, smokes too much dope and is way too paranoid. So paranoid that he’s struggling to control his trust issues with his beautiful new girlfriend, Becky. Becky is struggling too. A talented dancer estranged from her parents, she’s making ends meet by delivering intimate massages to London businessmen.
Becky meets Pete when she finds him reading a book written by her father, a prominent socialist thinker who was framed and imprisoned for sex crimes. Pete is in awe of, and in love with, Becky but he can’t deal with what she does for a living and yet he can hardly complain, when he hasn’t been able to hold down a job for years.
What Pete doesn’t know is that Becky has already met his sister Harry at a nightclub and sparks flew between the two. Becky is attracted to both the brother and sister, but when she finds out that Pete doesn’t trust her, her attraction to Harry only intensifies. The action culminates when Harry and Leon’s regular trusted drug supplier is sent to prison. When they’re confronted with a deal that goes disastrously wrong, they are forced to flee for their lives.
The Bricks that Built the Houses has been described as ‘genre-busting’ and its language is fresh and distinctive with short and punchy sentences, and extravagant imagery that breathes vibrant life into the characters. As when Harry first meets Becky: “The woman shines so hard in Harry’s eyes that a sudden flash is all it takes. She explodes out of herself like a fireball, blinding. Brighter and brighter. Electric and surging, her outline ripping the party like lightning, forking and searing and flashing, shining like sunlight on water reflecting back on itself and becoming heat.” Could we possibly doubt how strongly Harry feels about Becky?
Tempest’s other favoured mediums of rap and poetry are apparent throughout her prose – those staccato sentences, and the rich, evocative language that reveal influences as far reaching as the 18th Century English poet William Blake, and the avant-garde hip-hop group, The Wu-Tang Clan. Tempest has already been compared to a diverse range of artists, from Jack Kerouac, to T.S. Eliot, to Patti Smith! Tempest is at the forefront of experimental, edgy fiction and she voices the plight of her generation – disaffected urban youth who are longing for some richer meaning in their lives. Expect to hear more from her.
This is Tempest’s debut novel and she has already received rapturous acclaim for her poetry and rapping – her album Everybody Down was nominated for the 2014 Mercury Music Prize and her poem, Brand New Ancients, won the 2014 Ted Hughes Poetry Prize. Kate Tempest was born in London in 1985. She has published two plays, Wasted and Hopelessly Devoted, and two collections of poetry, Everything Speaks in its Own Way and Hold Your Own.