review: A L Kennedy at Toppings Ely

Topping and Company’s bookstore is striking gold in the world of literature. High profile names are offering book readings in this charismatic store, or when the need arrives, in larger, local venues as notable as Ely Cathedral.  

Recently A.L. Kennedy read from her fifth and latest book of short stories: “What Becomes”.  There was no doubt she is an inspired writer. Who else could create a series of profound emotional experiences based on having a mouth of large teeth?  We were soon suffering with the victim, reliving the feelings and the tricks of the mind that a visit to the dentist can engender or reacting wildly to the effects of over-enthusiastically applied anaesthetic.  With tremendous literary skill, she weaved perceptive images that remained with us long after her talk. Who else could craft such memorable phrases as ‘a whole piano’s worth’ of teeth, ‘werewolf earlobes’ or ‘I can speak alcohol’? Her style is undoubtedly extraordinary, succinct and unique.  

Her stage experience as a comedian added considerable flavour to her readings on this occasion. With expert timing, an occasional lifting of an invisible veil with which she shields her inner most thoughts and seemingly off-the-cuff personal asides, she fixed our attention.

No subject seems sacrosanct in her writing: sex, prostitutes, alcoholism and violence are all par for the course. This variety by no means diminishes the depth of her understanding: her serious and dedicated approach to her research is undeniable – the research for some subjects can take her over three years to complete. At his point it is also important to reveal how she insists that her writing is sheer fiction, NOT based on her own personal experiences!

This author is definitely worth reading. Her books include “Day”, “Now that you’re back”, “Original Bliss”, “On Bullfighting” and “Paradise”.


Topping and Company (01353) 645005

Further events at Toppings Ely will feature Shirley Williams (26th October), Jenny Uglow (29th October), Sir Ralph Fiennes (5th November), Alexander McCall Smith (18th November), Tracey Chevalier (25th November) and John Lyons (26th November).

Rosemary Westwell


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