The second novel (Penguin, 2010) by this extremely talented author is once again set in Birmingham, the scene of her wonderful debut, What Was Lost. The News Where You Are most obviously refers to a local TV news programme and its main presenter, Frank, who is in his 40s. Frank was previously a journalist so has a thorough attitude to his job, spending time researching and contributing to the news stories he presents rather than simply reading them out from a script. He has some years ago taken over the presenting job from Phil, an older man who made it onto mainstream TV and became a household name presenting reality TV and talent shows. At the start of the book, Phil is killed by a hit and run driver, but the novel is not a murder mystery or a crime novel.
Rather, it is a story about how we live our lives. Frank is married to Andrea and they have one daughter, Mo, who is about 12. Frank’s mother, Maureen, lives in an assisted living facility and Frank and his family visit her often. Maureen is always in low spirits, refusing to have any possessions in her room and always looking on the dark side of everything. Throughout the book, Frank remembers his childhood – he and his mother got on very well and played many games of imagination and fun together when Frank was very young. His father, however, was remote. It turns out that he was one of the main architects responsible for the post-war regeneration of Birmingham and its environs – a time during which Victorian buildings were ripped down and concrete monstrosities, as well as a plethora of roads, replaced them in the “era of the future”. Frank’s father was fixated on this future, and totally incapable of relating to his son or wife, who react to this emotional absence in different ways as time goes on.
This sad novel has many themes running through it – Frank’s relationships with Phil and his parents, as well as his newsreading, form the main part of the book. As an anchor for a local news station, Frank often has to present stories about people who have died alone, and he’s become more interested in these sad victims, often attending their funerals and, in the case of one man during this novel, helping the local council to try to find relatives of the deceased. This quest leads Frank inexorably to some truths about the outwardly successful Phil, and to some recognition in of what the news really is all about. There are some chinks of light and optimism both for Frank’s mother and for his own family at the end of the book, but overall this is a poignant novel about ordinary lives, the waste of trends in mass culture (whether media or architecture) and mundane sadnesses – how we live and how we find the enthusiasm for living. I loved this beautifully observed novel, and highly recommend it.
I purchased a Kindle edition of this book.
You can read an extract from the novel at the publisher’s website.