Cover Image: Hot Stew

Hot Stew

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Member Reviews

The story of inheritance and gentrification - Agatha inherits a house from her father and sets about transforming it into luxury properties, evicting those who already live there and don't fit in with her plan.  Its currently rented by more marginalised residents including sex workers and homeless residents - the story focusses on their stories as well as the physical space that is London and Soho. Interesting but not sure how much I enjoyed reading it, I prefer more relaxing books!
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The story is centred around Soho and it's inhabitants;  from Precious and Tabitha two prostitutes who are being evicted from their home, to clients like Robert who visit them and Agatha, who owns the property and wants to evict the women out to build luxury flats.

I was really intrigued by the synopsis of this novel and I wasn't disappointed. The collection of characters were all so well written that although I didn't like all them I was gripped by all of the intertwining stories and Soho was brought to life so vividly that I was hooked; loved the book and would definitely recommend. 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review
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I received an advance reader’s  copy in exchange for an honest review 

First let me say if you were expecting this to be anything like her last book, expect again. However it is a delightful romp through London as it undergoes gentrification. Definitely sent a message with humor and charm. Solid four.
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Dynamic and unique, with unforgettable characters - I always love books where London feels like a character.
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I'd never read Fiona Mozley before, and I'm not sure if this was the best book to start with. It was a very London novel, very Dickensian. It also reminded me in parts of Zadie Smith - the good parts reminded me of the urban accurateness of "NW", the bad parts reminded me of the cartoony, quirky "White Teeth". There were a lot of characters. Yup. A lot of them. Maybe I just wasn't in the right headspace when I read this, but I felt utterly indifferent to everyone and everything that happens in this book. It's all very skilfully handled, well-written and plotted, but at the end I just felt empty. I didn't understand what the emotional heart of this book was supposed to be - it felt like a giant 'so what, why should I care?' to me. Maybe I'm just a bad, cold person; maybe I was just a bit depressed when I read this and it wasn't the right time for this kind of book. So I think my reaction is mainly my fault, and not the author's. Maybe I am just fundamentally not into large cast novels anymore, and maybe if I lived in/was interested in London it would be different. I still want to read 'Elmet". Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for an ARC.
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Loved the setting, intersecting stories and the themes - however struggled to connect to some of the characters and understand their purpose.
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I’m not sure what I was expecting but I think not such a beautifully descriptive story of the levels of life in a Soho building. Every scene was so sharply in focus, every gesture captured , every word real that the characters jumped off the page. It meanders and diverts but kept me engaged and I was surprised how readable it was. Some characters are more likeable than others, loved Precious and Tabitha, as would be expected in a book about the steaming, festering underbelly of London but this is well worth reading.
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This was everything I could have wanted and more. I loved how you were introduced to individual characters and how they then all linked together. One of the best books I’ve read all year.
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London has changed a lot over the years. The Soho that Precious and Tabitha live and work in is barely recognisable anymore. And now, the building they call their home is under threat; its billionaire-owner Agatha wants to kick the women out to build expensive restaurants and luxury flats. Men like Robert, who visit the brothel, will have to go elsewhere.

This is a book that talks about all things relevant to society, we get culture, race, sexuality, and wealth! This is a first for me by the author and one I enjoyed and would read more of their work. The book cover is eye-catching and appealing and would spark my interest if in a bookshop. Thank you very much to the author, publisher and Netgalley for this ARC.
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A weird one to review, liked it but didn't love it ( even though i wanted to!).
The first few chapters had me convinced i would love it, the Soho setting and writing style was right up my street so much so that i am now racing to get back to London! Some have said it was too descriptive but for me this worked .
However....half way through and i was beginning to find it all a bit disjointed and it was starting to read more like a short story collection as there are a lot of characters (some which don't add much to the story) each with their own plot, they do interweave together but just don't seem to gel very well. I think it would have been better with just 2 or 3 characters and more depth . The plot also did get a bit silly too and the ending didn't really excite me too much.
Needless to say, it is a quick fun read and I wouldn't be put off from reading more from the author.
Oh and I love the cover
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This is a fascinating story, gripping and well written.
The author is a talented storyteller and her characters, a sex worker or a developer, are fleshed out and well written.
The plot is brilliant and I loved it.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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Hot Stew is an interesting book.  It very much lives up to its title because it is a mixture of so many things.  I   I loved the characters and the web that drew them all together.  A bit fantastic in places but the soho setting and the multiplicity of different angles to the story was intriguing.  However, I found the story to be disjointed and the ending disappointing, not sure what I was expecting but it did not satisfy.   So not for me.
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Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley is the Booker Prize-shortlisted author’s second novel set in modern-day Soho. It goes without saying that the setting is a real contrast to the rural Yorkshire depicted in Elmet but social class remains a key theme in Mozley’s writing. Her latest novel sees a large cast of characters faced with the impact of gentrification in central London. Agatha Howard has inherited her gangster father’s wealth and extensive property portfolio and wants to evict the more undesirable tenants from a building she wants to redevelop into luxury flats. The residents all join forces to fight the development plans and include drug addicts nicknamed Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee who live in a squat in the basement, and middle-aged Tabitha and Precious who are sex workers by choice in a brothel upstairs from the French restaurant on the ground floor. The characters were always going to be caricatures to some extent – gentrification wouldn’t be gentrification if the developers were all community-minded and friendly rather than self-interested and cartoonishly evil – but Mozley explores the human consequences with compassion. Many thanks to John Murray Press for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.
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This novel is proof that after the incredible success of the author’s debut novel, she is definitely not a one-hit wonder. Hot Stew is a fantastic patchwork of interweaving stories with an explosive conclusion. Focussing on a small area of Soho, it charts the long-standing businesses, occupants and their inevitable eviction with the onslaught of gentrification and redevelopment opportunities. From deep beneath the cellars to secret roof gardens above brothels, this multi-layered masterpiece features life and society in all her guises. Thoroughly enjoyable and highly accomplished.
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Ambitious, detailed and atmospheric, HOT STEW manages to stay firmly rooted in the cold dirt of realism whilst also deftly reaching for poetic meaning. Something of a love letter to Soho and that district's osmosis from past to present (and future), the novel deploys a large cast of varying characters to tell a story of value and values, relations and relationships, venality and vulnerability. As John Lanchester's CAPITAL takes a London street to focus a microscope on its residents, so HOT STEW takes a Soho building, from roof garden to cellar squat, to show us the lives, lusts and longings of its inhabitants and visitors. 

The story is very much about the battle between yesterday and tomorrow, with today as a kind of casualty of progression. The sex worker residents want to preserve their autonomy and safety; the ground floor traditional restaurant wants to survive; the addicts in the cellar to try to square their fantasy world with the real one around them. The novel is driven by its female characters: from Precious the politically instinctive sex worker to Agatha the ruthless heiress to a gangster's empire, via a drug-addled would-be magician's sidekick to a pub called the Aphra Behn, the women in this story try to confront their challenges while the men, for the most part, stick with the status quo. And everyone's future is rooted in their pasts, whatever they're aiming to build for themselves and whatever they're trying to leave behind them.

The writing is at its textured best when describing Soho: its history, practices, people, alleyways, squares, dirt, glamour, darkness and light. Occasionally, there are breathtaking passages, such as when one character takes an instinctive, poetic, fantastic step to self-betterment. Though the district serves as a microcosm, the story is firmly and gloriously rooted in the place.

Overall, a gripping and enlightening read, especially for anyone who knows and loves the glittering, abrasive, over- and undervalued crown that is Soho.
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Hot Stew is a hard book to review - it’s a mixed pot of characters and narratives that melt together as the story progresses towards its climax, but it’s not as satisfying as I’d hoped it would be. 
Based on the blurb I was expecting fierce women on all sides, fabulous and sassy, with a whole lot of personality that would hook me in. What Hot Stew actually delivers is a fair bit milder than that, with lots of characters thrown in to ‘add’ to the story; In essence it’s more like Love Actually than anything by Dickens although I can appreciate what the author was going for. For some of the characters I wasn’t really fussed what happened to them and as the stories of Bastian and Lorenzo don’t really go anywhere I feel like they’re just taking away time we could be spending with the others. On top of this Cheryl’s sideline is just plain confusing. Are we supposed to suspend our disbelief there? Is it symbolic in some way? I might have missed something but I just didn’t get that part. 
I think it would have been a better novel if it had just focused on Precious, Agatha & Robert, as for me they’re the most interesting of the bunch and I’d have liked to have seen more from each of their points of view. The characterisation is quite black and white in terms of who’s ‘good’ and who’s ‘bad’ which I quite liked but it also makes it all a little unbelievable again. Agatha is horrible but bland and we’re not really given any reason to empathise with her in any way which is unusual and perhaps an oversight. 

In terms of the writing I adored the descriptive nature of some parts of the book and the first chapter is incredible. I loved following the snail in its escape and then hearing the history of Soho and how it came to be the little pocket of London we know and love today. However the rest of the novel didn’t carry that on, and one later scene in particular is so far removed from this it’s just odd. You’ll know it when you read it and it’s inclusion just baffles me, I really don’t know what it’s supposed to add.
Overall I did enjoy the story and was eager to know what would become of the Precious and her friends, however it all got a bit too far-fetched for me as it went on and there were too many fringe characters that I just didn’t care about. It could’ve been brilliant and while there’s some great writing in there to start with, sadly for me it missed the mark later on. Thank you to NetGalley and John Murray Press for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Hot Stew is filled with a ‘melting pot’ of characters from every possible walk of life. Here in the dank streets of Soho the most vibrant and also the most destitute of characters live. Elsewhere there are bit-part actors and property developers who benefit nefariously from the area.  The female characters are extremely well written and in particular Precious, Tabitha and Cheryl are complex, surprising and the most impacted by the area’s changes. Fiona Mozley cleverly evokes a shifting sense of place as the novel moves from garret rooms to hidden subterranean mansions, giving an uneasy feeling of impermanence in the city.
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This novel was not for me I’m afraid. From the description I felt it was going to be powerful, and energised, and fierce, but I found it to be a little meandering without any real impact.

I’ve seen it described as Dickensian but set it contemporary soho, and I can see where this comparison is drawn from. Fiona Mozley creates a bleak and dreary setting, with disillusioned characters that are the victims of those that are willing to take advantage.

What was missing for me, though, is the creation of empathy towards the characters. I felt that Mozley could have focussed in on one or two characters or plots, as this novel just felt so broad with too many characters and subplots to follow, I wasn’t sure who/what I should be giving my focus to. Every time I picked the novel up I had forgotten who was who, which is such a shame because I never really felt invested, and there were some characters that I felt had some real potential (Precious, and Robert particularly).

There are some wonderful messages trapped in this novel, with themes of prejudice, judgement, empowerment, identity, hope, duty and love in several of the character arcs. There are also some themes that I will include trigger warnings for, being drug and alcohol abuse, and prostitution.

Overall I think this novel just tried to take on too much, and could’ve easily broken into three separate novels, all of which could’ve been incredibly moving with some of the important themes and messaging given more of a platform with a little less background noise. 

I would like to thank Netgalley and John Murray press for kindly providing me with an eARC of this book.
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Love this book, it's a sprawling, inquisitive look at the history and gentrification of Soho. The author, follows certain characters the way she follows the snail that escapes the French restaurant in the opening scene. She follows where they lead, explores their back story and shows how they all interconnect, she also highlights the misogyny and hypocrisy when she sees it. The book is fun to read, I really enjoyed exploring the history through the earth, bricks and people who make up Soho. I appreciated the highlighting of hypocrisy and the way that sexual politics particularly for sex workers is explored. The book is much like Soho itself, lots of interesting, nooks and crannies to explore, historic next to modern, full of interesting characters, noisy, messy and fun. 

With thanks to the publisher and netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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One of the many striking effects of the year we've all just lived through has been the emptying out of busy city centres. Nowhere, I imagine (I haven't been able to go there to see) can this have been more startling than in Soho, the part of London most firmly associated in the popular imagination with bustling nightlife: with clubs, restaurants and bars, the gay scene, the film and music business, the sex trade.

Mozley's novel gives us a glimpse of this district, in all its contradictions, still active and vibrant yet threatened by gentrification, by the spread of bland investment properties and above all by a meta-ness that trades on the sleazy image while holding its nose and standing one pace back. Yet in pointing to these threats, Hot Stew isn't a sentimental book by any means. One of the central characters, sex worker Precious, reflects of the district that 'There are people here who would sell their own mothers, or eat you alive. If society fell apart... this is the last place she would want to be.'

No more sentimental is Agatha, whose viewpoint we follow for a fair chunk of the novel. Agatha has inherited a property empire built by her father based on violence and other forms of lawlessness. He went "legit", up to a point, and now she is trying to go more legit, tidying away the sex workers and immigrants from her properties - "blank slating" them as she describes it - so that after modernisation or replacement, new tenants can be moved in. Agatha is an absolutely appalling example of somebody who sees life in transactional terms, as she shows over and again, treating her relationship with a dog, even a horse, a young employee in just just the same way, taking what she wants, turning her regard off and on as it suits here, paying no attention to the others' nature or needs. 

Yet Mozley does show us how this attitude may at least partly be rooted in Agatha's insecurity and fear of losing what she has. She has studied history ('The fragility of law and order is never far from Agatha's thoughts') and she keeps a yacht ('named Versailles') ready on the river in case things go bad quickly. She remembers how badly, as the daughter of a Russian immigrant, she was treated by the posh girls at the school her mother slaved to put her through.

There is a contrast between Agatha and the sex workers whose future is (as much as anything is) at the heart of Hot Stew. Precious and campaigns against the redevelopment of her home ands workplace, one of Agatha's assets, becoming a real thorn in Agatha's flesh, and that of the police and city authorities. Mozley paints Precious's working setup as something of an ideal, a relatively safe space where she has control and agency, acknowledging that other women find themselves in much worse, more exploitative circumstances, even in captivity. This is a controversial issue and Hot Stew, while pointing to the risks of well-meaning interventions, doesn't draw conclusions but instead highlights the complexity of real life.

The book also explores other denizens of Soho: Robert, a retired hard man, sits drinking with insecure young actor Lorenzo in the afternoon in a bar that is also under threat of modernisation. Roster is Agatha's fixer and enforcer, a tool from the old days that she can't, quite do without. (He's also her dog walker - Robert, remembering him from another life, sees him as a ghost walking a dog)  There is a young corporate lawyer, Bastian, whose relationship with his alpha girlfriend is under pressure. An ambitious police officer on the make. And, most strikingly of all, a group of homeless people whose existence roaming the streets and dossing in a cellar makes them a kind of chorus in this book: it's they who, literally, feel the tremors as a massive engineering project takes place under Soho, as oligarchs burrow down and down under their houses to create lavish suites where who knows what may go on, as construction trucks and delivery vans shake the streets.

Indeed, the homeless group gives this story an almost timeless sense, blending the present with the post, with more than a hint of fantasy. Is their leader, the "archbishop" really some ancient figure who remembers when Soho was fields and woods? Or is he just another man trying to cling on? We are given differing stories. Where do the couple referred to as "Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee" (they do a really bad magic act in the pubs and bars) really come from - what lives have they lived before and who are they connected to? One of them will, in this story, almost step out of their world to experience something quite different, causing consternation for those left behind.

Mozley weaves together all these elements and many more, creating a real sense of bustle and sprawling activity, of intersecting lives, most of them tinged by regret: Lorenzo at getting typecast based on his brown(ish) skin, Agatha beset by the half-siblings whose inheritance she enjoys, another young woman hovering on the edge of homelessness, only able to find a place to stay that's not-quite-above-board. Of all these figures, Precious perhaps regrets least. She's the one for whom Soho is both most permanent  (she has a decent flat, a steady income) and most temporary (eviction is threatened, but even without that she's here for a purpose, and will move on when it's done). But she is also one of the more vulnerable.  

Hot Stew creates a powerful sense of movement, with the characters who are going somewhere and others who are just going, who can't rest or settle. It jumps backwards and forwards to show what these people are to each other and what they have been, creating little "aha" moments when the reader spots events or people through new eyes, underlining the degree to which all perspectives are partial. It's a very human book: even with her flaws, there is sympathy for Agatha.  Another character, Rebecca, who came across to me as rather unpleasant, is really stupid rather than bad ('Rebecca was emphatically apolitical, which meant she liked things the way they were.') Robert regrets his violent past and refuses to be drawn back into it. Lorenzo breaks with Robert on learning a dark secret about him, but hates himself for doing that.

The book is full of beautiful writing and characterisation. We are told that 'There's something about the night in this city that is brighter than the day'. Rebecca is 'a highly measured person. Bastian is frequently astonished by her levels of self-control'. Precious 'puts on a voice that is sweet and pliable, a voice she reserves for men'. While Agatha's senses 'only decipher the present', a dog uses its nose to 'deal with history'. After a betrayal says that she '"was an idiot for trusting [her]. But whatever. Damage done. lesson learned. I've moved on." Precious has not moved on.' The writing simply flows, making even most mundane episodes a joy to read, stuffed with insights and unexpected perspectives. Covering several months in its characters' lives, it isn't forced and doesn't round everything off neatly. Whatever the challenges and changes, the comings and goings, Soho will continue and its people will adapt.

I would really, really recommend Hot Stew.
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