How A Saint in Swindon by Alice Jolly, published by Fairlight Books, was written was most unusual and it is an unusual novella. It came from a writing exercise in which the author and the Swindon Artswords Reading Group met, before the book was written, and the book group contributed ideas and suggestions for the story. In this way the readers became the commissioners of new literature, the details are set out in the book’s foreword and afterword.
A dystopian tale set in 2035, were there remains a human need for stories and a strange man, Jack MacKafka, comes to checks into a B&B run by Janey and Phil. Ensconced in his room he reads. He asks for meals in his room and later for books to be fetched from the library, specific books. As his stay extends he becomes a local celebrity and others are influences to increase their own reading with an unusual fervour and urgency.
The times are changed by advances with climate change and by an anarchical breakdown of current norms. There are people camping in the street of the B&B speculating on the reader’s book choices. The list of twenty-nine books requested by Jack included classics and great works such as The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, 1984, Cider with Rosie and Heart of Darkness.
Some towns people took the event very seriously, particularly Carmen. And, to avoid spoilers, a crime is committed. Written with gentle humour and observing everyday-folk reacting to unusual events leads us to consider reading choices characters make and whether patterns can be determined within the choices.
Read the lines
Having stirred a great deal of intrigue the stranger eventually leaves, having prompted many more questions than he has answered. Janey and her friends now have more books they’d like to read and Janey reflect that, “We were so busy reading between the lines that we forgot to read the lines themselves.” An intriguing ending leaves the suggestion that we cannot live on facts alone and need something beyond the everyday. Near the end the question hangs, ‘… how can you build the future if you do not dream?’
An interesting example of experimental writing and its reach this short read won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but most will find it unusual. For me an intriguing creative collaboration that could have gone in a myriad of different ways.