The Night Alphabet
by Joelle Taylor
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Pub Date 15 Feb 2024 | Archive Date 12 Jan 2024
Quercus Books, riverrun
'Joelle Taylor has a Midas touch with words' Diana Souhami
The tattoo was a reclamation, a flag we mounted in the centre of our own landscape.
A woman walks into a tattoo parlour. But this is no ordinary woman, and this is Hackney in 2233. Jones' body is covered in tattoos but she wants to add one final inking to her gallery - a thin line of ink mixed with blood that connects her body art together, creating a unique map.
As the two artists set to work, Jones tells them the story behind each tattoo. As Jones is no ordinary woman, these are no ordinary stories: each one represents a doorway to a life Jones fell into, a 'remembering'. Some of these lives were in the past, others in the future, some are sideways, but each of them connects Jones to the two tattoo artists in some way, though they are unaware of it.
We visit the dystopian cities of the Quiet Men, the coal mines of 19th century Lancashire, join a gang of vigilante sex workers, enter the world of an INCEL murderer, haunt the old Maryville gay bar, and uncover plans to genetically modify female children. Each of the stories brings us closer to Jones' truth, and how her life is intricately interwoven with that of the women tattooing her body.
Set across geographies and timespans, The Night Alphabet is a dazzlingly bold and original work, a deep investigation into human nature and violence against women.
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Average rating from 6 members
Published 15 February 2024. This novel by poet Joelle Taylor blindsided me totally - I wasn't expecting something that was so affecting and as for the writing, the poetry in the use of language and the images, it is so visual and clear - stunning. We are in 2233 and a woman walks into a Hackney tattoo parlour. She is covered in tattoos but wants one final inking, she wants to link, to connect all of the images with an ink mixed with blood. As the two women in the parlour start their work, they ask Jones about the tattoos and she tells them the stories behind them. And this is when we learn that Jones is not just a woman covered in body art, she is different. Each tattoo is a reminder of what she refers to as rememberings, when she falls into different lives. Some are in the past - we go 19th century mines, some are dystopian - the chilling Quiet Men. We have stories of sex workers, trafficking, murder, revenge, and even a plan to genetically modify baby girls. Each story had an impact. Beware there is violence against women here, but there is also strong and resourceful women. I thought this was so inventive and as for the way that the lives of the women in the parlour are woven into Jones - you'll just have to read it yourself.
Incredibly well done. Simply a fantastic novel, I am so excited for it to be published and to later see others rave about it as they should if they read it well. The length is so deceptive! Finished it so quickly, it annoyed me knowing that I didn't savour it as it deserves to be. This calls for many re-reads. Structurally beautiful, stylistically fresh, and the narrative is just spectacular, needless to say. Everyone should read this. Apart from being an extremely beautiful piece of writing, it's also so timely and important. I wish Taylor is already working on another one at the moment, as greedy as this may sound... Sorry, not sorry, but a massive, massive thank you.
If you fancy something highly original, with exquisitely beautiful writing (that you want to print out and frame!), then you need 'The Night Alphabet'. I highlighted more passages to revisit than I have in all the rest of my books put together. Joelle Taylor's award-winning poet status sings from every page. 'The Night Alphabet' is a collection of short stories that read like a novel. The book is inventive, compelling and deeply, deeply affecting. Each story I read was my favourite. Every one of them took my breath away. I don't want to give anything away about the content, but I would urge you to read it and share it with your womenfolk. It's quite bizarre, identifying your Book of the Year two months before the year has even started, yet here we are. And having read 'The Night Alphabet', this feels strangely fitting. This is a book to revisit, time and again. If it doesn't win all the awards next year, I'll eat a MAGA hat.