Book #32

Ten Storey Love Song by Richard Milward

In Ten Storey Love Song, over the course of a single dynamite paragraph, we follow Bobby the Artist's rise to stardom and horrific drug psychosis, as Johnnie attempts to stop thieving and start pleasing Ellen in bed and forty-year-old truck driver Alan Blunt spends a worrisome amount of time patrolling the grounds of the local primary school. And when Bent Lewis, a famous art dealer and mover-shaker from London, appears, Bobby and friends are quickly swept away on a sweaty adventure of self-discovery, hedonism, and violence.

Milward gives us the lives of the residents of Peach House - a tower block in Middlesbrough. We see them all rise and fall within their own lives as they wander around in their separate working class hells. Each of them struggling with some sort of flaw, each of them desperate for affection, each of them someone you’ve probably met before. Except maybe the paedo.

The novel is written as one entire paragraph - no line breaks, no chapter breaks, no bloody breaks at all. I knew this before I started, and managed to convince myself it would all be okay - the book has been on my shelf for around eleven years, though, so it’s been a long time convincing. Although intended as stream of consciousness narrative, and which does work to a degree, it becomes very tiresome, very quickly. I found it next to impossible to encourage myself to read it. The issues I have with this book I will lay solely at the feet of the big paragraph.

Initially, I loved these characters. They felt really raw and gritty, real people plucked off the streets and thrown into a story. Their lives felt relatable, their struggles those of the everyman, their joys and laments starkly comparable to thousands. But something went wrong not too far in; I stopped caring about them, their fates held no interest for me. Was it the writing, or was it just the big paragraph?

Anyway, I soldiered through this by attaching my questionable ‘don’t give up’ moral compass to my hip, a moral compass which I may discard very soon. I navigated the trips, the fights, the emotional backflipping. The big paragraph exhausted me; I persisted. And I feel I’ve come away with nothing. Even the big sentence in Ulysses was more rewarding.

I’d love to say don’t let the big paragraph put you off. The big paragraph will lead you to a breakdown. The big paragraph will consume your love for reading whole. The big paragraph is a villain, a nightmare, an assassin. Do not go toe to toe with the big paragraph.