The Homeless Heart-throb by Crystal Jeans
Alternately hilarious, shocking and sad, Crystal Jeans’ latest novel is set in Cardiff. But perhaps not the Cardiff the urban planners and WAG mavens would use in their shiny advertising campaigns.
Each chapter is narrated by different characters linked by the street on which most of them live and the appearance in them all (to greater or lesser extent) of the title character the alcoholic vagrant who for one of the neighbours is an unusual subject of desire. Set in various homes, streets and parks, and a nearby care home for the demented elderly the story lines are darkly humorous and occasionally rude and crude – up front portrayals of people on the frontline of urban poverty, disenfranchisement, drug culture and unappreciated but essential work lives. Lit up with authentic characters and appealing voices, and the full gamut of human relationships platonic, romantic and sexual this is an unputdownable journey into the underside of contemporary Wales.
I would like to thank the author, publisher and blog tour organiser for the ARC in return for an honest review.
Being a Cardiff resident I was intrigued when I received an email offering this book for review, would it depict my city in a way I would recognise and identify with. Of course it did! Yet this should not define it for readers, because it could be any street, any city when the story of its inhabitants.
It is extremely funny, moving and sometimes shocking. It reflects with clarity the variety of the people and personalities in one street. The moments and relationships that connect them. The little misunderstandings and events that can divide them. Each chapter has a very distinctive voice that shone brightly from the page and brought to me the reader an insight into the pain and sorrow in their lives, the mundane moments that shape their desperation and the moment’s of happiness brought from random acts of spontaneity. We are given an often emotional insight into what goes on behind the doors of homes and that felt both voyeuristic and yet also deeply intimate.
It’s quite an emotional rollar- coaster of a read on times, reducing me to tears and other times to laughter. Often I felt a shudder at how personal it felt and how shocking some events where. Yet it also filled me with a sense of contentment that comes from reading a book that brings characters and their lives to life with such clarity. It makes the years you shed for them feel quite cathartic. This is not a stereotypical view of Wales, it is orginal, fresh, challenging and has a very distinctive voice.
I adored the way each story felt connected and yet told a little story of its own.
Without a doubt, I would recommend this book to everyone. It deserves a wide readership and the writer lauded with prizes for such a wonderful book. I never wanted to put it down because the writing is so sharp, extraordinary and eccentric in places. Such books are few and far between, but when they arrive we should consume with passion and openness. I felt a little bereft that it’s over now, because it challenged me as a reader, entertained me and made me realise that my city and yours can inspire collective stories of immense strength.
You can purchase this novel from Amazon
About the author
Crystal Jeans was born and brought up in Cardiff. She lived in Bristol before doing first a Creative Writing BA then an MPhil at the University of Glamorgan. She works in a care home, which inspired a collection of poetry about dementia (Mulfran Press). She has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize (2010), had poetry published by Seren Press, and two short stories published by New Welsh Review.