Reviews

British Story

‘This frequently surreal tale follows an academic’s entanglement with an oddball group, led by the Falstaffian Arthur Mountain, who share a strange extended tale stretching back to wartime Swansea via Doncaster and Edinburgh. Reminiscent of the work of Kurt Vonnegut, this is a really engaging and entertaining yarn with plenty of knowing literary allusions.’  – Times Higher Education Supplement

‘Nath’s layering of gritty, earthy imagery and philosophical observation lends a unique form to his writing. British Story offers a fond and meticulous account of character, both in its personae and spirit.’ – New Welsh Review

‘A wonderful  exercise in novelistic virtuosity, strange and beautiful.’ – Times Literary Supplement

British Story doles out the kisses and the coshes in equal measure. Fittingly for a book obsessed by the importance of character in literature, Michael Nath’s second novel can best be summed up as a swaggering and beer-bellied roar of anger, tenderness, reflection and resistance. I loved it. Nath takes the reader on an almost encyclopaedic tour of the often violent and always edgy relationships between the English, Welsh and Scottish nations. He is equally adept at providing satellite views of events such as the country’s railway network or the tactics of football hooliganism as he is in zooming down to specific and little-known details. A loud and extraordinarily compelling novel, tussling with the big issues of life and death.’ – The Morning Star, Book of the Year

‘A British academic finds his theory on fictional characters intersecting with the narratives of several eccentrics.

Kennedy is a literature professor who worries a lot: about problems with his Falstaff project, his wife’s desire to conceive, a student’s plagiarism that’s linked to a dalliance he fears will surface, and his theory that literary characters are as real as nonfictional humans. Then he meets Arthur Mountain, a Falstaffian Welshman who sounds like a fictional character: the strident nationalist Citizen in Joyce’s Ulysses. Arthur, who has his own project involving mysterious “stoplines,” brings adventure to Kennedy’s life, breaking his routines with excursions, a picnic and a long story by his wife, Natalie. It tells of a simple man who attends a soccer match and gets caught up in awful violence with “the worst man there is.” Kennedy listens, “as absorbed as a boy at the end of day in the appetising mellowness of chalk.” Things get more than a little meta when characters in the inner tale turn out to be real and everyone seems to be connected—as one might expect in a Dickensian novel, certainly one more conventional than this. Nath (English/Univ. of Westminster; La Rochelle, 2010), includes nods to Shakespeare and Joyce and Tristram Shandy, references enough playing with modernism and literary style to offer an unorthodox survey course with this as the one required text—maybe held in classrooms suffused with the “mellowness of chalk.”

Sure, it’s a bit self-indulgent and probably too quirky to keep a lazy reader from quitting early, yet the novel has a gem of a minithriller in Natalie’s tale and an overall brain-tickling web of delights and surprises.’ – Kirkus Reviews

‘British Story is Michael Nath’s second novel, and what an extraordinary and powerful novel it is too. To sum up the plot briefly, one might say a failed and failing academic meets a larger-than-life Welshman who vaguely resembles Falstaff; but then not everything is what it seems to be. This Falstaff produces – in our hero, our prince – a cataclysmic change for the better, although the ending leaves the question undecided (in my view unsatisfactorily, although artistically this may have merit).

Perhaps what is most remarkable about Michael Nath’s narrative skills is first and foremost his linguistic ability: the language of the story is rich, dense, allusive, elliptic, strange and wonderful; it draws on the full range of English language’s possibilities and capabilities, and indeed I would say it is almost poetry. It is therefore no surprise at the end Nath profusely thanks writers as diverse as Shakespeare, Spenser and WB Yeats!

A couple of examples of arresting sentences must suffice: “Lost be they who are unamazed” and I love: “Ever a portly man, he once kept a pub in Neath. On Spring Bank Holiday ’72, a Hell’s Angels stuck a sheath knife in Fat Parry’s belly. Vibrating, it lodged there till Fats twanged it out, cast it to the floor and said, ‘Should have used a fucking harpoon, mun!’ Then picked up the chair and cracked the Angel’s skull with it.”

At first I found it difficult to discern what the plot was about. We have an overload, almost, of information about Kennedy and Arthur Mountain and the plot seems lost in a swamp of inconsequential details about them and their lives. However, this all becomes very necessary and the characters are about a plot that dovetails neatly and brilliantly together by the time we are two thirds of the way through; so for those who like their plots (real plots – and I am one) you have to wait, Nath teases you, but like a master craftsman, he delivers. And as different as this is from a favourite plot of mine – Lord of the Rings – it does have one character element in common: we do know so much about Kennedy and Mountain, the heroes if you will, for whom we are rooting. But the villain, if villain he be (interpretation questions going on here: let’s hope Nath is not trying to do a James Joyce and setting academics arguing for centuries about exactly what he meant), the cockney, Voight, is much more shadowy and indeterminate, like the Dark Lord himself. The fact that you never really meet the Dark Lord in the novel makes his evil even more sinister; your imagination has to conjure him up. So with Micky Voight. Quite masterful how this is done, and the final confrontation is genius writing, except for Kennedy stepping …Ah! Enough.

I strongly recommend this novel. Michael Nath is a major writer – few I think possess his literary skills, imagination, and in-depth ability to recreate a world from the odds and ends of Wales, London, Scotland, Shakespeare, Spenser and the lesser lights (Yorkshire et al!! LOL). Buy it and give him a review – he deserves it.’ – James Sale

‘A rich, captivating novel. Nath has a wonderful ability as an omniscient narrator, plunging the reader down and then drawing them back up when he wants to. You cannot help but be fascinated, sucked into a world of wild stories punctuated with the odd expletive or wild, roaming tangent. I couldn’t recommend British Story enough.’ – Sophie Dyer, Whooper

‘The great obsession British Story is the subject of character and identity. And yet it’s funny. Often belly-achingly so. Nath’s plot leaves us with questions, a reminder that questions with answers slow to come by are really the stuff of great literature.’ – Ben McKay

La Rochelle

‘The writing, which is clever, witty and ambitious throughout, becomes shot through with a wonderfully oneiric unpredictability. Nath can entertain with a whole page on different interpretations of what is meant by “a while”, and many of his similes and observations are original, funny and absolutely spot-on.’ – The Independent

‘… the writing is the star of the show; Nath has a distinctive style that blends a lyrical and yet chatty stream of consciousness with flashes of magic realism. A curious and original aspect to the novel is that Mark is of mixed race and yet, in defiance of current literary trends, absolutely nothing is made of this. The struggle to be heroically masculine in the modern world is the novel’s overriding theme, and Mark and Ian are amusing and depressingly recognisable portraits of ungallant metropolitan men.’ – The Spectator

‘A really entertaining dark and comedic literary debut. Sharp and erudite.’ – Paul Greatrix, Times Higher Education Supplement

‘I love this book… It’s got a real type of wit… It’s like Proust in Peckham or Hamlet in Holborn. Go and read this tremendous book.’ – Dr Lee Spinks

‘… a wonderfully intriguing novel… Nath sets the book in London during 2004 and gives a stark sense of life under New Labour’s middling years as he describes a generation of surplus university graduates who have to take what life gives them and lack the material ambitions of promotion and property… His descriptive powers give the novel a wonderful realism, his protagonist inhaling his Rothman’s ‘like a hoover’ as Ian tries to justify his past infidelities over another pint in their favourite pub. Fortunately, the author also has the wherewithal and wit to sustain this tale to its entertaining conclusion.’ – The Big Issue in the North

La Rochelle makes all other literary fiction seem so polite!’ – Leigh Wilson

‘This inspired and unpredictable debut novel impressed me with its infectious use of recollection and regret.’ – Hull Daily Mail

‘Stylish, very funny, discreetly surprising, this remarkable novel reads at times like a fable of England under New Labour, where nothing is quite what it seems and not much is worth what it costs. But it’s not a fable. It’s the subtle, semi-sad story of a lost man, who has wit enough to have found himself several times over if he had really been looking.’ –  Michael Wood

Jules et Jim with a postmodern twist.  Nath has a confidence and attitude that rocks you on every page.’ – Daisy Goodwin

‘Darkly comic and highly original novel.’ – The Crack

‘Truth is everything, love is everything and the pursuit of both is more important than the outcome.’ – Andrew Oldham