Review: Black Car Burning by Helen Mort.


Hello Book Lover,

I have been familiar with Helen Mort’s poetry for a few years now, I bought my brother-in-law her collection entitled ‘Division Street’ and he absolutely loved it. So, when ‘Black Car Burning’ popped up on my radar a few months ago after I saw several people rave about it on Twitter and Instagram, I was immediately interested and with it being set in the North of England, I knew it would be a book I wanted to read.

When a call went out from Martina from Midas for bloggers for the Dylan Thomas Long List blog tour, I jumped at the chance to review this one and I am so glad that I did.


How do we trust each other?

Alexa is a young police community support officer whose world feels unstable. Her father is estranged and her girlfriend is increasingly distant. Their polyamorous relationship – which for years felt so natural – is starting to seem strained. As she patrols Sheffield she senses the rising tensions in its disparate communities and doubts her ability to keep the peace, to help, to change anything.

Caron is pushing Alexa away and pushing herself ever harder. A climber, she fixates on a brutal route known as Black Car Burning and throws herself into a cycle of repetition and risk. Leigh, who works at a local gear shop, watches Caron climb and feels complicit.

Meanwhile, an ex-police officer compulsively revisits the April day in 1989 that changed his life forever. Trapped in his memories of the disaster, he tracks the Hillsborough inquests, questioning everything.

As the young women negotiate the streets of the city and its violent inheritance, the rock faces of Stanage and their relationships with each other, the urban and natural landscape watches over them, an ever-present witness.

My Thoughts

“None of them knows what it’s like to climb so hard you put all your breath, all your hope into one small movement, one small step that might not matter, but  might be everything.”

I do love it when a book completely takes you by surprise and blindsides you. If you would have told me 12 months ago that I would read a book about a group of polyamorous climbers living in Sheffield and would absolutely adore it, I wouldn’t have believed you. I wasn’t expecting to fall for this book as hard as I did. The combination of lyrical prose, nuanced characterisation and in depth exploration of Sheffield and its surrounding areas really struck a chord with me.

The book centres around four main characters, well five if you count Sheffield and its surroundings, but more on that later.

Alexa, a police officer, climber who is in a relationship with Caron. Alexa is haunted by the death of her mother and the estrangement from her father, who was also a police officer. Her relationship with Caron is far from perfect, having entered into an open relationship, a void and distance has now opened up between them. Caron, has become fixated with climbing Black Car Burning, a notoriously difficult climbing spot and spends all of her time striving to be fit enough to take on this difficult climb. Leigh, works in a climbing shop, she is in a failing relationship with a man who is already with someone else. Then there is Pete, an ex-police officer whose first job was to attend Hillsborough in 1989, the trauma of which continues to haunt him to the present day. All four are part of the same climbing circle, their lives become entwined and collide.

I was absolutely entranced by this book from the very beginning, it’s a wonderful piece of writing which really examines human behaviours in both the simplist and most complex of contexts.

There are a number of themes running through ‘Black Car Burning’, race and community tensions, loss, grief, pride, shame, the past and how it shapes us and influences our ability to make decisions. All of which unfold as the surrounding areas looks on, Helen Mort not only utilises Sheffield and its surrounding area, she gives it a voice and this it’s position as the fifth character.

There is something very comforting about reading a book which is set in the North of England, I went to university in Sheffield, I have friends in Matlock, Stony Middleton and Chesterfield and am familiar with other places cited in ‘Black Car Burning’. I am biased being a Northerner and all, but a book set in a town which you know well is like a huge paper hug. 

This is Helen Mort’s first novel and I have to say I am really looking forward to seeing what she does next. ‘Black Car Burning’ is published by Chatto and Windus and is out April 2nd.

Keep your peepers peeled for the rest of March, as some fabulous bloggers will be sharing their thoughts and reviews on the rest of the titles on the Dylan Thomas Long List, look out for the #SUDTP20, 12 titles, 66 readers and 96 reviews. A huge thank you to Martina at Midas Publishers for inviting to take part in the blog tour.

The shortlist is announced on 7th April 2020.

The winner is announced on 14th May 2020.


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