Slow Burning: The Electric Michelangelo

On the windswept front of Morecambe Bay, Cy Parks spends his childhood years first in a guest house for consumptives run by his mother and then as apprentice to alcoholic tattoo-artist Eliot Riley. Thirsty for new experiences, he departs for America and finds himself in the riotous world of the Coney Island board walk, where he sets up his own business as ‘The Electric Michelangelo’. In this carnival environment of roller-coasters and freak-shows, Cy becomes enamoured with Grace, a mysterious immigrant and circus performer who commissions him to cover her entire body in tattooed eyes.


This morning I finished The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall. It’s a truly amazing and beautiful book. A masterpiece like the ones Cy etched on hundreds of bodies. I don’t really know where to begin. It took me four or five weeks to read this book, which is really long for me. G bought it for me in Foyle Books second-hand as he thought it seemed like my kind of book. It IS a slow burner, but the prose is so artistic and the story slow and descriptive in places, it seems a lot of people found this. It isn’t a complaint. I’m glad I took all the lunchtimes and falling asleep in the lamplight to get to know Cy Parks and his story.

I loved the settings, Morecambe Bay and Coney Island. I briefly visited Morecambe with my aunties when they lived in Lancaster for the year.

I loved the fact that it was about love, loss and the art of tattooing. There are wonderful paragraphs that describe the process and emotional stamp of tattoos. It does make you appreciate and perhaps want to get ‘scraped’ yourself.

Cy Parks’ mother Reeda ran a hotel for consumptives from 1907 in Morecambe. One of the first scenes is Cy holding basins for the sick to cough and hack bloody messes into. It’s pretty gruesome, along with the midnight scenes and painful, clotted clues that the hotel also housed secret abortions had me swaying light headedly in the break room.

Reeda Parks is a wonderful character and I have pinned on of her quotes up on my wall.


Eliot Riley is the dangerous, alcoholic womanizing Bolshevik that Cy fatefully becomes apprenticed to. The ten years he spends being taught and abused by Riley shape his life forever.

When Riley horrendously dies, Cy goes to America and ends up with a stall on the board walk at Coney Island and a new name, The Electric Michelangelo. He is nestled among the freak shows and the hot dogs, and things often take a magical and surreal turn.

I was fascinated by the character of Claudia, a huge muscled woman married to the equally big Viking Arturus ‘Turo.’

‘Claudia had a secret…She was obsessed with the baby incubator exhibit at Coney. She could not keep away from it….Cy had passed the place often but had never been inside the show. He disapproved of it. It was one of the more extreme and less tasteful enterprises at the Island, a macabre maternity ward. Beyond the unseemliness of the place it also disturbed him on a sinister, childhood level, for it brought to mind the strange work of his mother, all the children of her unmaking, all the undone babies of Morecambe Bay…

Claudia had miscarried six times in her life and Arturas did not blame her, even as she was confounded by her own body and wept for not giving their love issue. He fixed their dead children’s names to her mighty body in black ink, like eulogies on a mausolem.’

So much pain and struggling to understand in this book. This just about broke my heart.

Cy’s main and late coming love interest is a fascinating woman, a circus performer called Grace who lives in his building. He watched the light from her window and her silhouette on the wall opposite like a cinema screen. She is mixed race of unknown origin and has a horse called Maximus. She is a chess champion and asks him to tattoo her whole body with the same green, unblinking eye. The tattooing is a strange and intimate affair where Cy has to struggle to keep his feelings under control. Grace is so intelligent, scary sometimes and unreachable. Tragedy and loss happen in the most devastating way, all tied into skin and seeing and love…

Tattoos and the art of tattooing lends itself wonderfully to beautiful writing. It’s something I would like to read more about.

There were instances when Cy’s needle unwittingly dived down into a soul and struck upon meaning, then confidential matter came up, unstemmable as arterial blood or gushing oil, and customers confessed the meaning behind the art.

There are very wise points regarding feminism, and women and sex. It’s the kind of book that you really want to discuss with someone, like the ending. What it means… I really think I’m going on too much, but I really recommend this book. If you’ve read it, tell me what you think!

The Guardian’s review from March 2004 says it so much more eloquently and clearly.

A huge wonderful achievement from Sarah Hall, and I’m looking forward to hunting out her other work and hopefully finding her on twitter.

The Versions of Us – Book Love

A book by Laura Barnett. I implore you to read it! I wanted to write a review while it was fresh in my head, but my time ran away with me and I’m working 6 days a week at the moment.


What if you had said yes…?

Eva and Jim are nineteen, and students at Cambridge, when their paths first cross in 1958. Jim is walking along a lane when a woman approaching him on a bicycle swerves to avoid a dog.

What happens next will determine the rest of their lives.

We follow three different versions of their future- together, and apart – as their love story takes on different incarnations and twits and turns to the conclusion in the present day.

I was mesmerised by this beautiful book. My copy is absolutely gorgeous with lemon bicycle printed endpapers and a detailed green hardback. I’m jealous of Laura Barnett. She’s a journalist with the Guardian and this is her first novel. And what a story it is.

Even in the version where Eva and Jim don’t be together, they are inexplicably linked and drawn together throughout their whole lives. I loved it because the version you think you are rooting for, when they get together and that is that…twists and tragedies still occur and the whole situation is messy and not how you might have imagined it. There are lovely clever things such as in the version where they have been together around ten years and are going to a 30th birthday party. Eva is wearing a playsuit and feels good but a slightly drunken and bitter Jim says ‘You aren’t wearing that are you? You look like an overgrown baby.’ An upset Eva changes. However in the next chapter in a version where Eva and Jim are merely acquaintances Jim is delighted to find Eva at this party and complimentsher. She is wearing the playsuit. She wore it because there was no Jim to tell her not to… My heart.

Some people complained that the troop of different characters (including the fluctuations of different children!) are confusing, but I think it was really interesting and anyway, ultimately everyone else falls away because the book is about Eva and Jim. I read the book over several weeks (it was too heavy to take to Prague) and I was definitely savouring it.

The writing is really beautiful and full of wisdom. I found myself wanting to underline parts of it. I instagrammed sentences.

It scared me about love and it rang true, it broke my heart and it made me cry real tears at the kitchen table on my day off. A real work of art and will stay with me for a long time.



When I first started a blog over four years ago I vowed I wouldn’t rant. One of my good friends didn’t make a blog for that exact reason, she knew she would do nothing but! So please bear with me. I wouldn’t be writing if I didn’t feel strongly and angry enough about it.

Around Christmas time I got my current job in a big bookshop/newsagent. Once a guy in his late thirties, stutter, nervous asked me about books for his son. We didn’t have the exact thing he was looking for but I guided him to the Children’s area and showed him various books that might be fun and helpful for his son. I was nice to him. The conversation kept drifting towards me and his issues with his ex and he asked me really uncomfortable things like is it true he wasn’t desirable to women because of his arthritis (??) and did I have a boyfriend and all sorts. I found myself craning over the bookshelves for someone to save me and afterwards realised that the kids area is secluded, I was kind of trapped.

He came back about two weeks later and tried to slip me his number. I just said no and walked away.

In that kind of retail environment not only are you trapped by the confines of the store but you can’t very well tell someone where to shove it when you have to maintain excellent customer service. And I think somewhere certain predatory men know this, they use it time and time again.

I am not the girl that gets a lot of male attention. Not by a long shot. But my most horrible experiences with, I’m sorry, creepy men have been after they’ve sat beside me on a bus and in work. In situations where I feel I have nowhere to go.

It was this excellent article in the Guardian ‘I’m tired of being kind to creepy men in order to stay safe‘ that encouraged me to write and made me want to shout YES in agreement. I saw it just after alighting the 212 bus from Derry to Belfast and having endured an older man with a blotchy face nudge me over and over as he searched his pockets then finally worked up the nerve to speak, asking me millions of questions and tapping me on the shoulder, arm, knee for about an hour. Although I had forgotten my earphones and was carefully looking out the window, and sending the biggest don’t-talk-to-me-vibes. I was texting my boyfriend saying I was scared to fall asleep in case he groped me.


Jeremy Corbyn could introduce women only train carriages. I’m torn. I’d definitely feel safer but it shouldn’t come to that…

I don’t think it’s happen stance that sexual harassment happens with increasing alarming frequency on public transport in the UK. Train carriages are small. Bus seats are cramped. There’s nowhere to go.

Here’s a brilliant excerpt from Daisy Buchanan’s article as mentioned:

There’s obviously something about a quiet coach and a station buffet that encourages pervy passengers. British Transport Police have just announced that the number of sexual offences on trains and at stations has gone up by 25% in the past year, and is now at record levels. Any travelling woman who has ever sunk down in her seat and opened her book, only to be tapped on the shoulder and asked “What are you reading, then?” will be surprised that the numbers aren’t higher.

We’ve all been bothered by persistent guys who pester us relentlessly, believing themselves to be entitled to our company and more. We’re under pressure to be polite and manage their expectations. Ignored men are angry men, and it’s horrible to sit silently while a man shouts at a packed carriage: “She thinks she’s too good to talk to me!”

As a woman, although it isn’t always a concious thought, it can also be about trying to appease the man in the situation so he doesn’t become aggressive.

She is SO right too about her Mum’s regret being teaching her daughters to be so polite. I find it really hard to ignore or cut someone off when they are talking. But you know what? If you make me uncomfortable and have come to my work for the fifth time you won’t get nice Fi anymore. I just need to work on being more assertive much quicker. I tend to be friendly and chatty and people clearly see it as an ‘in.’ I have regretted a handful of situations where I have been much too nice.

The final push to write this came after today, feeling shaky and neck and face blazing after telling a 70 year old regular customer that I changed my mind and I didn’t want to go for coffee with him, I didn’t think it would be appropriate. I was too afraid/ nice to say no the last time. He is a retired teacher and I have had lots of friendly conversations about teaching with him in the last months. He never came across creepy but this just made me so uncomfortable, especially as he is so insistent. He stood staring and asked me my name and stuff so maybe he is having some trouble with his memory or something too. And maybe he is not being creepy but I have been watching for him this last week or so and dreading turning him down. Anyway I had to say no several times before he would leave and it just ruined my whole day.

A fella at work told me that the security man in the shopping centre described a regular, kind of eccentric man who went into a shop downstairs and always chatted to one of the girls there. One day he asked to take her for dinner and she explained that she was happy to talk to him in work but she didn’t want to do anything outside of that. He leaned in close and said ‘That’s not the answer I was looking for.’

Basically I think I am writing this to tell women that they don’t have to be kind or polite to men who are demanding attention and making you feel uncomfortable. I have spent my life doing just this and I am striving to correct it. Tell your boss, walk away, move seats, protect yourself.

Also, men it isn’t your right for a girl to talk to you. If she’s reading, or facing away from you on public transport then maybe it’s best not to disturb her.  If you wouldn’t walk up to someone in the street or in a bar then don’t do it somewhere you know she can’t walk away from. Respect at all times. Try to see it from the other person’s point of view.

I never write controversial posts and I know this may offend. But these are my true feelings and I know they are shared with plenty of people I have discussed them with, who care about me, male and female. I am the opposite of a man hater, so don’t think that. I love my boyfriend, Josh Ritter and Hugh Jackman (haha). I know women can be confusing and send out mixed signals, and it wouldn’t be a crime to ask someone out in a retail setting or even on a train. But respect her right to say no and don’t assume or threaten or take liberties.

Stay safe.