Nothing is Heavy by Vicki Jarrett

With a knack for veracity, Nothing is Heavy from Vicki Jarrett slips twixt past and present in a series of set pieces that offer a gradual building of character in the way a good movie does.

There is always some action in each scene, and a reason for each character to be there — because this novel has direction.  It’s a dependable book and I felt the forward motion pretty much from page one - - what I am suggesting in fact is that reader wants to know what’s going to happen.  You can’t say that about all books but if you read the first page of Nothing Is Heavy, you’ll stick it to the last.

The reason for Nothing is Heavy succeeding in this fashion is that it is neither genre fiction nor literary fiction. There are a few writers — Iain Banks was one — who are that rare thing which is both of the above. This is what it feels like at least — as if in an audience defying display of skill and wit, a genre writer were composing as a literary writer. This means some basic tenets of genre writing are included — a prime example being that something must happen, and pretty regularly.

Linen Press, the publisher of Vicki Jarrett’s Nothing Is Heavy is not just a business venture, but a labour of love for owner Lynn Michell, who is based near Edinburgh. Michell says: “I want to read superb, innovative, beautiful writing that speaks to women. I want to fall into a novel and not emerge until its ending. I want to gasp at sentences that defy literary gravity.” All of the above would apply to Nothing Is Heavy, which I add will appeal to men just as much as women, as it doesn’t feature any gender-specific message or bias, but is a singularly unpretentious and progressive novel of crime, drama and comedy, dripping with inner city colour.

In Nothing is Heavy readers of literary fiction will relate to the setting, the backstories and the depth of character explored, while genre lovers will appreciate that the story moves relatively quickly. The turn of phrase in is apt, and generally very funny, but there isn’t any sense that the characters are ever stuck anywhere for long — always working their way out, and fixing the story as they go. As novels go, Nothing is Heavy can get real lippy — ‘I’m not going to describe all the places I’ve been. Get off your arse and go and see them yourself. I’m not your fucking tour guide.’ — but it also holds poetry, as the title may suggest.

The overall tone of Vicki Jarrett’s Nothing is Heavy is cinematic however, and in fact the more I read it, the more I accepted that reading for the sake of hearing a story is not so important. It seemed to me to be just as much about character, and the possibility of bonds forming where you might not ordinarily expect them. It means that Nothing is Heavy has the same ambience to it that the film Pulp Fiction does — you’re not quite sure if you’re there for the story or the characters because both are driven by this ducking and diving narrative that never stays in one place for long, but splits into past and present at the drop of a hat, slowly unpeeling the finished product.

Ah, and better still, at the time of writing Nothing is Heavy has been shortlisted for the Saltire Award for a first book, so congratulations are due there. 

Here in the meantime is a random taster:

 

George’s left foot hurt. It felt as though some practical joker surgeon had relocated his heart there for a laugh while he was unconscious. It was beating relentlessly. He wondered how long he’d been sleeping. The Mouth had explained what had happened to him. He’d had a severe allergic reaction to the anaesthetic and his blood pressure had crashed while he was on the table. His vocal chords and tongue had swollen up which is why he felt like he had half a pound of cold pastrami in his mouth. And he’d broken out in red blotches all over his body. They weren’t itchy anymore but his skin was tight and hot as if he’d been lying in the sun for too long. But despite all that, he’d be fine apparently.

 

Once he’d got to grips with reality after those bizarre dreams, he’d looked properly at the owner of The Mouth. He was a tanned young doctor with sun-bleached blond hair and a smile that belonged in Hollywood where it wouldn’t scare people so much. He looked vaguely familiar. As George probed his memory, the theme music from Jaws started up, the deep two-note bass-line circling ominously at the back of his mind.