Now if you have been fortunate enough to come across the Small Axe series you might have heard of Courttia Newland for his stunning scriptwriting. Watching these compelled me to pick up A River Called Time, Newland’s tome that he recently came back to and got picked up by Canongate. Speculative fiction in its epic form, Newland’s tome of a novel is a story of love, loyalty, politics and conscience set in multiple Londons.
Courttia Newland is the author of seven titles including his much acclaimed debut, The Scholar. He co-edited The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain, and his short stories have featured in various anthologies and have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. He was shortlisted for the 2007 CWA Dagger in the Library Award and the 2010 Alfred Fagon Award. In 2016 he was also awarded the Tayner Barbers Award for science fiction writing and the Roland Rees Busary for playwriting. As a screenwriter, he has more recently written episodes of Steve McQueen’s 2020 BBC series Small Axe.
The Ark is the inner core of Newland’s world, having been built initially to save the lives of the many, but soon became what seemed like the property of the elite, the entrance closing without warning.
Years after the Ark was cut off from the rest of the world, a chance of survival within its walls is granted to a rare few who can prove their worth. Markriss Denny, the voice of the novel, is one of those, whose path to future excellence is affected only by something that he keeps close to his chest – without warning, his spirit leaves his body, allowing him to experience a parallel world, hence multiple Londons.
Once inside the Ark, Denny learns of another with the same power, whose existence could spell catastrophe for humanity. Through this he uncovers much about himself and his past he failed to understand and gained further understanding. This nebulous and astral world of Denny’s is a joy to attempt to get an insight into, through Newland’s descriptive prose. This well-built post-apocalyptic London is by no means one I would wish to be pulled into, although it’s clear there’s much allegory to this world. And with social inequality, police brutality and propaganda themes to explore in this novel, it raises much question about our society.
Whilst the writing is poetic, lyrical and visceral there are moments throughout The River Called Time that feels like too many weaves are being written into the narrative of this novel. Beautifully complex characters, with much to beguile are Newland’s saviour in a novel that pulls us in different ways, and the writing keeps us page turning. An intriguing concept, a thorny world and vivid prose render it worthwhile to drag yourself into Denny’s astral and meditative realm.
A River Called Time is out now, published by Canongate