The first thing you notice about the book is its title: We Go Around in the Night and are Consumed by Fire. It’s taken from a piece of graffiti scrawled on an overpass in Manchester. It’s the translation of a Latin palindrome. It’s a good title, the kind that makes you want to pick the book up and read its blurb. The blurb is good too; words like literary, thriller, violence and revenge are not necessarily what you’d expect from a title like that. Even more unexpected are the words: lesbian gangster. A crime thriller with an excellent title and lesbian protagonists? Yes please!
It’s rare that a literary novel comes along with lesbian characters that are boldly out. Usually, if they exist at all, they are hinted at, brushed over, or just not mentioned. Given that we live in a climate where Dead Lesbian Trope is a thing, it’s still a bit of a thrill to find an actual literary novel with lesbian protagonists. There are plenty of books with LGBTQ characters, sure. But many of them are still bottom-shelf, hidden in the darkest, sleaziest corners of a bookstore. By the time you’ve read everything by Sarah Waters and Ali Smith and Jeanette Winterson, it’s hard to find fiction that’s both mainstream and lesbian. (And if you’re wondering why sexuality should matter in this day and age, well, that’s an argument for another time.) LGBTQ readers who just want to pick up something good with relatable characters, readers who can’t be arsed with obsessive research and trial and error, are not left with much choice. Enter We Go Around in the Night and are Consumed by Fire.
The novel is about a street gang in Manchester, the Bronte Close Gang. Headed by BFFs Donna and Carla, the gang makes money selling drugs from perfume atomisers in night club toilets, working as cleaners to account for their income. The drama begins when Carla is gunned down and killed for sleeping with the wife of a local gangster. By this point, you’re already feeling matey with the characters. The Bronte Close gang are hugely likeable, so it’s heart-breaking when it happens. Author Jules Grant captures grief so well that it gives you that closed-throat feeling. It’s not sentimental or soppy; it’s violent and mean. It makes you angry. Which is basically what the characters are feeling; they are determined to get their revenge on the killer – especially Donna, who masterminds a plan to put a bullet in the man responsible.
The story is fast-paced and addictive. At points there is hardly time to breathe. It’s narrated in dialect which adds to the momentum; the plot flashes between the present day and past memories, (many of which are unexpectedly funny), giving the story time to catch its breath. One of the more original touches is that the book has two narrators. The main one is Donna, but there are also chapters from Carla’s gutsy ten year-old daughter, Aurora. Aurora’s voice is tragic at times, badass at others. Sometimes it’s hilarious. It gives another dimension to the novel, and makes Donna’s revenge even more intense.
I’m pretty thrilled this book landed on my 2016 reading pile. It subverts so many things about crime fiction; there are no naked female bodies washing up in rivers, no flawed-but-lovable brutes saving the day. The heroes of this book are all women, and they’re lesbians to boot. This isn’t what makes the book great, but it’s something we absolutely definitely should be celebrating. Diversity in publishing is a pretty shouty topic in the book industry right now, and its novels like this that help bridge the gap. Plus, the death of a lesbian is an actual plot point, not a just-because, which means We Go Around in the Night won’t be appearing on the Bury Your Gays Tumblr any time soon. And if that isn’t enough to make you want to read it, just think about how good that title is.
Jules Grant will be speaking about We Go Around in the Night and are Consumed by Fire at Gays the Word on Thursday 19 May.
We Go Around in the Night and are Consumed by Fire was published by Myriad Editions on 8 April 2016.
Post by Jenn