Book review: 'The Dig Street Festival' by Chris WalshSarah Fairbairn reviews a novel set in the familiar-sounding neighbourhood of Leytonstow
The trio of characters at the centre of Chris Walsh’s debut The Dig Street Festival are among the unlikeliest I have ever met in a novel. Both marginal and marginalised, Gabby, John and Glyn are all residents of the rapidly deteriorating Clements Markham House, the kind of much-divided, over-crowded crumbling villa that will be familiar to any resident of Waltham Forest. The borough itself has a starring role in the story and readers can enjoy picking out the cameos from “Whitehorse Road”, “Leytonstow Village” and of course “Dig Street” itself (I may be a little slow, but it did take me a while to connect this to Hoe Street).
The novel has a sweetly funny tone arising both from its main characters’ warm naivety and the absolute chaos of the plot. At various points John and his friends find themselves accidentally robbing a bank, attending a pen-training seminar in order to fill out a council form, and re-exploring the south pole at “Leytonstow’s premier ice skating venue”. Events and people collide into each other – sometimes not just figuratively – with a sort of frenzied fun that pulls the plot in unexpected directions but the absurdity of both the situations and characters is underpinned by a story which, at heart, is about how much we all have to offer each other.
Our hero, John, is a deeply-thinking, deeply-feeling man, always ready to approach the world with an open mind, and heartbreakingly in love with the local barmaid, Lois. He is a vulnerable character buffeted by waves of gentrification and at the mercy of a boss and a landlord who see him only as a dependent. Yet from all this, Chris Walsh constructs a world of touching honesty and some real laugh-out-loud moments. The Dig Street Festival is an unusual and riotous book that also succeeds in truly reflecting the world around us.
Buy the e-book online here or follow Chris on Twitter @WalshWrites