Bolt From The Blue by Jeremy Cooper
Published by Fitzcarraldo Editions on 27th January 2021
Available From All Good Bookshops and Online
What They Say
In Bolt from the Blue, Jeremy Cooper, the winner of the 2018 Fitzcarraldo Editions Novel Prize, charts the relationship between a mother and daughter over the course of thirty-odd years. In October 1985, Lynn moves down to London to enrol at Saint Martin’s School of Art, leaving her mother behind in a suburb of Birmingham. Their relationship is complicated, and their primary form of contact is through the letters, postcards and emails they send each other periodically, while Lynn slowly makes her mark on the London art scene. A novel in epistolary form, Bolt from the Blue captures the waxing and waning of the mother-daughter relationship over time, achieving a rare depth of feeling with a deceptively simple literary form.
What I Say
As a Book Blogger, I am very lucky to receive books to read and review. Some I have asked for and some are a lovely surprise, and just sometimes you get a book sent to you that would never have been on your radar and you are so very glad it now is.
Bolt From The Blue by Jeremy Cooper is one of those books. I don’t expect many of you will know about it yet, but take it from me, this is a unique and brilliant novel that is absolutely going to be on my #MostSelfishReads2021.
It is the story of a mother daughter relationship told over thirty years in postcards, letters and emails, and it works beautifully. There are times when they communicate constantly, and other times when a wrong word means that their correspondence becomes sporadic or even stops completely.
Lynn, the daughter, decides to move to London to take up a place at the Saint Martin’s School of Art, leaving her Mum behind in Birmingham. Lynn’s correspondence with her Mum at the start of the novel really reminded me of when I first went to Leeds Uni in 1989 (pre mobile phones and social media!). You have to communicate every sight, sound, thought and feeling through your writing, and although it might be slightly overwhelming, you want to tell your parents everything and try to make them understand exactly what you are going through.
As Lynn starts to study, she talks at length about the art and artists she meets, and her thoughts and feelings about art as a commodity. As she becomes more successful, she starts to question the monetisation of art and the way in which art galleries and dealers operate, as well as her own feelings as to her personal integrity about making money versus maintaining control over her art and career.
What I also really enjoyed was all the references to art and artists, and I spent a lot of time googling them alongside this novel which added another dimension, and for an art lover like me was just perfect. It really gave the writing a sense of time and place, and put Lynn firmly in the centre of the action.
However, what is so integral to this story is the relationship between Lynn and her Mum, and the way in which it changes through the years. At times they are really close, other times do not speak, but there is always that bond between them. As Lynn becomes more successful in the art world, she talks to her Mum frequently about what that means to her, yet at the heart of their discussions is her Mum’s desire to become a Grandmother and she at times unashamedly pressures Lynn to become a mother too. There is also the shared memories they have of their past – the uncomfortable discussions about Lynn’s father, as well as the numerous boyfriends that Lynn’s Mum has had over the years.
This novel is also a perfect example of the unconscious and unspoken bonds that exist between some Mums and daughters, the emotional shorthand that only they understand and use to heal or hurt each other. As the novel progresses, it seems that they have more in common that they want to admit, but Jeremy Cooper’s skilful writing always keeps their relationship slightly on edge, which is tempered by the occasional declarations of love and care, but also there are vicious exchanges between them that seems so real too. I think it is testament to Cooper’s writing how authentic these characters are, I really felt at times that this was a non-fiction book of a collection of correspondence as oppose to one imagined for this book.
Bolt From The Blue was for me that perfect mix of familial relationships and a chance for me to really understand and learn about the art scene in London. It was made even better by finding out that the postcards featured in this novel actually exist, which added a whole dimension to this book for me. It is a measured, assured and perfectly paced novel that I might not have known about, but after having read it, I would urge as many people as possible to read it and fall in love with it as much as I have.
I absolutely loved it.
Thank you so much to Clare Bogen at Fitzcarraldo Editions for my gifted copy.