Sick Notes by Gwendoline Riley – A Review


I’m a fan of Gwendoline Riley – big enough to go and invest in her entire back catalogue after ‘Cold Water’ absolutely blew me away. I also love her short stories, which I am currently working my way through. She is a writer that tells your own stories back to you, particularly for me, being very familiar with Manchester and working class northern roots.

‘Sick Notes’ was good, and I liked it – but it seemed like that case of the difficult second album for me. Esther wasn’t quite as likable or vivid as Carmel, and I found her so morose and distant at times that I really found her hard to take much of an interest in. That said, Riley is a great writer. Her description of the mundane – whether it be sat at a bar, travelling on a bus, lying down on the bed with a book whilst staring out of the window – are often fascinating insights into that that we overlook because it is so ‘normal’. She is clearly a keen observer, and probably does carry the notebook round in the same way that her main characters do.

This novel is quite introvert, melancholy and introspective, and it frustrated me that Esther almost deliberately sought loser types. Her family history is bleak too, but at least she has creativity as something to hold on to, and a good friend in Donna. Would I encourage people to read it? Yes, if just for stylistic purposes. I just wanted more from Esther – more than just the disaffected loner, that’s all. Riley has assumed to mantle of the northern gritty greats like Stan Barstow and Alan Sillitoe. I just don’t think it was her most gripping work, but very valid as part of a growing and diverse back catalogue.

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