Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
“Fun doesn’t have to be fun to be fun.”
It’s been a while since I’ve properly laughed at a book, and I mean really laughed – this one has just topped the funny list for me! I’ve had so many thoughts throughout reading this; it’s peculiar and rather eccentric in parts, but it’s also incredibly deep, entertaining and full of life. I’m so happy to be opening the blog tour today with my review – make sure you check out all the other reviews from these other brilliant book bloggers!
It’s 2006 in the fictional East London borough of Leytonstow. The UK’s pub smoking ban is about to happen, and thirty-eight-and-a-half year old John Torrington, a mopper and trolley collector at his local DIY store, is secretly in love with the stylish, beautiful, and middle-class barmaid Lois. John and his hapless, strange, and down-on-their-luck friends, Gabby Longfeather and Glyn Hopkins, live in Clements Markham House – a semi-derelict Edwardian villa divided into unsanitary bedsits, and (mis)managed by the shrewd, Dickensian business man, Mr Kapoor.
When Mr Kapoor, in a bizarre and criminal fluke, makes him fabulously credit-worthy, John surprises his friends and colleagues alike by announcing he will organise an amazing ‘urban love revolution’, aka the Dig Street Festival. But when he discovers dark secrets at the DIY store, and Mr Kapoor’s ruthless gentrification scheme for Clements Markham House, John’s plans take several unexpected and worrisome turns…
The humour in this book captured me right from the start, and on multiple occasions, I was sat reading with a big smile on my face. Even in the opening chapters when I didn’t yet have a full grasp on the plot, I found the way the author writes to be a real pleasant surprise, with characters you can’t help but love! Learning more about John, Glyn and Gabby was interesting to say the least, but even so early on in this story, their personalities shine through and I felt the need to follow their journey. These characters think of things so deeply, and their conversations between each other and to themselves were just fascinating to experience from a reader’s point of view. I think we see a bit of the author in these characters and I really admired just how unique he’d made each of them. It was clear that they’d have quite the journey ahead of them and I was certain that us readers would be entertained each step of the way!
We soon come to learn more about the woman who John is in love with – Lois, the barmaid. He describes her as terrifying, but even so, his passion for her is evident. He opens up to her, explaining how he sees the world which I loved. Her character was really memorable and I was looking forward to seeing the role she played in the book. The author also describes how John sees his hometown in London, and even London itself. Filled with everything he thinks could be improved upon, he craves change, and he seemed to be the one to do it. He needed a way to bring people together, to stop the hate and encourage cultures and communities to work together for the greater good. That’s where the Dig Street Festival was born, and I loved it! (But more on this a little later…) The balance of humour and seriousness has been perfected in this book already, but the best was still to come! I felt the writing style of the author was perfectly suited to the nature/genre of this book, and I was intrigued to see where he’d take things.
“That’s what I’m trying to do, I want people to realise they’re alive. I want them to run through the streets, celebrating their amazingly unlikely existence!”
John and Glyn’s job cleaning floors and trolley collecting at the local DIY store appears to be just something “to pay the bills”. Their 75-year-old boss, Dave, regularly belittles them and even I wanted to put him in his place! However, his very potty mouth and aggressive attitude really made this guy stand out in the book, and it was understandable how intimidating he must seem to others, especially John and Glyn. Even though a job is a job at the end of the day, John feels the needs to do more with his life, and a conversation with another character, Benny, was an absolute joy to experience. John slowly becomes more ambitious, realising the things he can do to make the most of the rest of his life. The book also begins to make the reader think about the bigger picture, about why people act the way they do and what they can do about it to live a better, more fulfilled life. This really does get you thinking, and was something quite unexpected after reading the humour that the author had poured into this!
After quitting his job and being free to do his own thing, John takes it upon himself to give advice to his nearest and dearest, especially Gabby and his thrash metal band. John gives constructive criticisms and advice to these guys – whether they’d take his advice or not, this remains to be seen! John and Lois finally get that time alone he’d wanted, but things certainly don’t go his way as feelings aren’t mutual at first – with so much going on for John right now, I felt his mind was conjuring up a solid plan to put everything right. The detail at the start of the book was phenomenal, and the more we read about John, Glyn and Gabby’s lives, the more I wanted to know. How exactly would John play a part in a festival for the people of Leytonstow and who would he bring in to help make these dreams a reality? Even more importantly, would his efforts make a difference and tranform the mindsets and goals of others for a much better future?
The more I got into this story, the more I felt I got to know these characters. In fact, the author has done such a brilliant job that I felt like I personally knew them, and I wasn’t sure I’d experienced anything quite like this before in a book! The detail of each scene is so fascinating, with each character playing their part in a way that sticks in your head. I would have personally liked to have read more about the festival a little earlier on, as it seemed I was constantly waiting for it, but instead we were learning more about the lives of these characters and their weird and wonderful experiences, especially John. Saying this though, these experiences are far from dull – the entertainment factor from the author is spot on and really does make the reading experience unforgettable. Gabby takes everything so literally, and it was particularly entertaining seeing John lose his cool with him on multiple occasions. John needs other people to see how the world is suffering and to join his mindset. Would anyone see just how bad things had gotten and look for a solution along with John?
When we finally first hear about the festival, John, Gabby and Glyn are signed up and ready to go, even though John believes Tim, the organiser, stole his idea for a change. The fact that this festival would create a happy, friendly atmosphere with fun activities is something that will really brighten up a reader’s mindset and I couldn’t wait to see how the whole thing would be set up. After more hilarity that made me silently shake with laughter, (the jobcentre chapter is comedy gold!) John gets the positive thoughts he’s been craving after some brief suicidal thoughts. He was going to fund the Dig Street Festival after a strange, lucky money encounter, and do what he needed to feel alive again – to make everyone feel alive! I could feel the pace of the story pick up a little bit here, and I began to feel excited about what was to come for these characters. The first half of the book was so in-depth and really impressive, and I knew this would just continue until the end.
“It was my time! It was our time! Time for the people of Leytonstow to rediscover their own intact egos! Time for us to live!”
John has more serious life discussions with Benny, and I really liked this character even more by this point in the book. People like this make you realise your worth and I could instantly see the impact he was having on John and how he saw everything around him. The dialogue throughout the whole book is truly unique, and this alone just makes everything come to life that much more. I loved how the characters discussed the idea of God and religion in a way that wasn’t too intense, and it was pretty interesting to say I’m not religious in any way! There was also one really good conversion between John and his boss, Dave, that I enjoyed reading. Even though this guy was an absolute arsehole 90% of the time, the one moment he shared a smile with John actually made me smile too! John’s attempts at healing the world one teeny step at a time seemed to be working, and I constantly admired his efforts. I couldn’t help but get a warm, fuzzy feeling every time John succeeded in any task. Just brilliant story-telling that really helps the reader connect to the book.
I was surprised at just how parts of the book tugged on those old heart strings, especially as we learn more about how one character, Eric, lost his wife and daughter. However, it isn’t all doom and gloom, and even though it’s not a laughing matter, the author puts a humourous spin on things to lighten the tone, which really complemented the story and how the author had written the whole book. John quickly learns how to help others deal with their problems, encouraging them to talk about their issues and helping them feel the emotion they’ve been bottling up. These scenes were written so well, and by this point, I thought the real world needed more people like John in it! John continues to recruit some bright and eccentric characters into his way of thinking, changing lives in the process. The progress of the Dig Street Festival was far from how I imagined it to be here and was rather slow, but I did think this slow progress worked! The author has taken a unique idea and bent it into a whole new shape. Something never done before is what all readers want to see, and I think we really do see it in this book.
After an already adventure-filled ride, John, Glyn and Gabby decide to lug all their belongings (after accommodation troubles) to Dig Street. I could tell that this part of the book would be impactful due to the build up, and once again, the author has made it difficult for a reader to take a break. It was great seeing a new side to Gabby as he actually comes up with a clever solution to a big problem, and even does his own part to make others feel good about themselves which was particularly heartwarming. Gabby was one of my favourite characters and had such a uniqueness about him that I loved. I also liked hearing more of John’s writing and I liked how we witnessed the author’s writing in a completely different style here. (I wondered if his next book would be completely different to this one…) When arriving at Dig Street, (manoeuvring around some obstacles, of course) John had big plans. Would they finally be able to get through to those who would listen?
With even more recruits trudging down to Dig Street together, I could feel some sort of community spirit here. The chapters in the run up the book’s finale were some of my favourites in the whole book! The description in these chapters made this scenario so easy to visualise, and just came across as brilliantly thought out and something that would be very memorable to me long after I finished reading. All the small things John did for those around him made him such an admirable character, and I was so happy with how his plan was succeeding. From feeding the people of Leytonstow to ensuring their experience was something that brightened up their spirits, John put his all into everything – it made me want to hug him! The festival was finally coming together in John’s desired way, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for him. It was also written in such a brilliant way, and when John makes the papers for his efforts, this just warmed my heart even more, even if there were pornographic magazines everywhere! (You’ll understand after you read the book…)
“Where did this leave us? We were playing hopscotch with the roles of rationalist and surrealist, logician and madman.”
After John speaks to the press and sees what’s going on at the DIY store, we learn that Gabby has been left in charge with not only the whole of the goings on at Dig Street, but also with the bank card and PIN! By now, we know this is probably not the best idea, and John still has a lot of responsibility. However, what he finds as he returns to Dig Street was just perfect, ending the book in true Gabby style. Heavy metal and a bunch of people having the best time, cannot thinking of a better outcome for the festival! The author builds up the excitement for the festival particularly well at this part of the book, and the wait was worth it in the end! However, there still one thing that I was really hoping for for John – his own happy ending. Would he, after everything he’d done for other people, be able to live a happier life of his own with the best people around him? Would Lois ever play a part in his future?
The festival gets a little out of hand, but this certainly gave the ending of the book more character and it ended on a hilarious note to complement the rest of the book! I think it’s safe to say these characters will stick in my mind for a long while after this, as will the story of the Dig Street Festival! Even though everything isn’t tied up, there are still a few loose ends which not only made the ending more interesting for me, but we also get to use our imaginations and think about the future all these characters have. Even though entirely different from any other book, this one explores just what happens when culture and society is brought together, if only temporarily, and shows just how we can work together to achieve great things. A great book that will appeal to many, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the ride alongside these characters!
Chris Walsh has to be one of the best writers of humourous fiction I’ve ever come across, and this book is all the proof you’ll need! He’s not only perfected British humour and succeeded in making me laugh out loud on numerous occasions, but his talent also covers phenomenal character creation and development, as well as the creation of an epic story line like no other. The book can get heavy in parts and there is a lot to take on board and process, but I urge you to give it time and attention. Despite The Dig Street Festival not getting the coverage I was expecting, I did really enjoy the unexpected direction the story took. This book will not only make you think about life in a whole new way, but you’ll end the book with the biggest smile. Thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end and completely immersing – an absolute corker of a book!
A huge thanks to the author, Chris Walsh, and Emma at Damp Pebbles for my copy of this book to read and review! You can purchase your own copy of The Dig Street Festival over on Amazon, available on Kindle and in paperback. Make sure you’re following the author over on Twitter and Instagram for updates!