Let Me Be like Water is a raw, hard-hitting, and incredibly candid novel about grief and loss. It’s also funny, optimistic, and full of characters that are as real as any fictional people you are ever likely to read. As a debut novel it’s hugely impressive; it’s confident, tightly structured, and unassuming, while at the same time being hard to shake off once you’ve finished reading it.
The book follows Holly, a bereaved songwriter in her twenties who has just moved to Brighton after the death of her boyfriend. The tone is bleak, stiff and empty – an apt introduction for a character who is numb with grief – but things start to thaw when she slowly meets a group of new friends who have all experienced some kind of loss themselves. It begins with a chance encounter with Frank, an older gay man whose own partner died years ago. Frank is a magician and a cook who has a talent for spotting grief. He tugs gently at Holly, inviting her into his home where she finds warmth and friendship and starts to heal through these new relationships.
The novel is quiet in that not much happens. Written in the first person, Holly is constantly talking to her boyfriend’s memory. He is the ‘you’ of the novel, and he is as vivid as the cast of characters who exist in real-time. As the narrative slips between the present and the past, we learn of their relationship from start to finish. It’s an intimate dynamic for a novel, and even when it seems to be rolling along gently the use of the ‘you’ pronoun opens it up to something more profound.
London and Brighton loom large in the novel, functioning as additions to the exceptional slew of characters, and as much more than just locations. Anyone who has lived or spent time in either will recognise not just the settings but the feel and pull of place and the people within it. In its capturing and personification of place, Let Me Be Like Water paints a vivid portrait of a diverse and modern Britain.
S. K. Perry is a Brixton-based author who was a resident artist at the Roundhouse in Camden and a Cityread Young Writer in Residence. Shortlisted for the Mslexia Award, and longlisted as London’s Young Poet Laureate, her writing has taken her all around the world leading creative writing workshops that develop emotional literacy, and explore mental health, memory, and healing from violence. Perry’s writing emotion-filled, beautiful and stylistic writing has been compared to that of Maggie O’Farrell, Jenny Offill and Sarah Perry.
Published this Thursday, Let Me Be Like Water is already courting high praise (and much more is expected):
“Raw, visceral and confident enough to resist the neat ending that beckons, this is an affecting debut.” – Daily Mail
“A beautiful reflection on love, grief and friendship. Witty and profound.” – Fiona Mozley, author of Man Booker shortlisted Elmet
“Let Me Be Like Water is a beautiful, honest and engaging study of how we are healed through the grace of others. It is a novel about the people and places we love, and how, when these are lost, we learn, often in the most surprising ways, how to begin again.” – John Burnside, author of A Summer of Drowning
“Intimate, ruthless, tender: this book is like medicine for the soul.” – Nina George, author of The Little Paris Bookshop
“Radiant and brave. A beautifully crafted study of loss and the redemptive nature of friendship; and a powerful reminder of the tendernesses of love, in all its forms.” – Kate Howard, author of The Ornatrix
“This beautiful novel about mourning is actually a celebration of life and the regenerative power of friendship. Let Me Be Like Water transcends pain and comforts; it dances in the sky like a kite.” – Denis Thériault, author of The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman
“A deeply felt, deeply romantic novel of fragmentary, raw emotion, that flickers and flares like a nerve exposed.” – Barney Norris, author of Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain
Let Me Be Like Water is published on 10th May by Melville House UK (9781911545132, h/b, £14.99)