Reviewed by Chris Richards
You don’t read this story. You feel it. Luan Goldie’s Nightingale Point is visceral, not cerebral. It is powerful, engaging, important, and at times painful. A tale of chances, chaos, and consequences. There are criticisms that can be made but, ultimately, it is perfectly imperfect.
Nightingale Point is inspired by a tragic event at high-rise flats in the Bijlmer, Amsterdam in 1992. It is a timely publication in tribute to those from Grenfell Tower. Decades and The North Sea separate them but the aftermath unfolds with little to part those affected. Goldie has created a vivacious and recognisable world for readers to become absorbed into. Each chapter is told from one of six main characters’ perspectives on that day and after. Laying out reactions, effects of trauma, and finding the courage for the journey to contentment. Each of the personalities have pain from the past and personal hurdles to overcome. This makes every page seem like an autopsy of the psyche without resorting to cold psychological jargon. Differing perspectives add depth, vivacity, and empathy.
Goldie’s writing is an advocate for her character’s responses and reactions to the event, not the disaster itself or even the politics that are bound to follow. This story is about people and relationships; the simple, complex, old, and new ties to other people in life. Bureaucracy and logistics are dealt with lightly, third hand, and briefly. Even the peripheral bureaucratic characters inspire a small amount of sympathy and drive the narrative forward. Expect anticipation, tears, and that noise of unexpected amusement which always seems to happen at a moment of maximum embarrassment. Best read in the bath, just blame those damp eyes on the steam.
If there is a criticism it is the selective nature of the account of the tragedy. There are other characters who may have scratched an itch for abject terror/sorrow/despair. But this is also Goldie’s triumph; there is no doubt those other stories are happening in her world beyond the pages. From the incidental husband and wife holding each other, to the man with dreadlocks and paint-splattered clothes. The story is a snatched glance into events most are lucky enough not to experience directly but by which we are all nonetheless affected. Entertainment as catharsis.
Nightingale Point is Luan Goldie’s much anticipated debut novel. She was shortlisted for the London Short Story Prize in 2018, came second in Grazia/Orange First Chapter Competition in 2012, and won the Costa Short Story Award in 2017 for “Two Steak Bakes and Two Chelsea Buns”. As well as her day jobs as a Primary School teacher and mother, Goldie has a coveted place in the Almasi League based in London for writers of colour and writing with an ethnic background, under the mentor Courttia Newland who is cited in the Acknowledgements as an “early inspiration to write”. All her achievements to date make it clear Luan Goldie is an undeniable talent and inspires excited anticipation for future projects.
The Almasi League accepts monetary donations on their website to support its aims to encourage new and exciting voices in literature and for them to be read widely.
Nightingale Point, published by HQ, is out now. It is available from good bookshops, including October Books in Portswood Road, Southampton.