Ironopolis

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Pub Date 01 Feb 2019 | Archive Date 10 May 2022

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Description

Shortlisted for both the Orwell and Portico prizes when first published.
Stranded on the outskirts of Ironopolis —nickname to a lost industrial Middlesbrough—the Burn Council Estate is about to be torn down to make way for regeneration for the future. But these streets know many stories, and some hide secrets.

Jean holds the key to the disappearance of a famous artist; Jim’s youth is shattered during the euphoric raves of ‘89; a brutal boyhood prank scars three generations of Frank’s family; Corina’s gambling addiction costs her far more than money; and Alan, a man devastated by his past, unravels the darkness of his terrifying father, a man whose shadow has loomed large over the estate for a lifetime. And then there is the ageless Peg Powler, part myth, part reality. Why is she stalking them all?

Shortlisted for both the Orwell and Portico prizes when first published.
Stranded on the outskirts of Ironopolis —nickname to a lost industrial Middlesbrough—the Burn Council Estate is about to be...


A Note From the Publisher

'...nothing short of a triumph' - The Guardian

Selected in The Guardian’s Best Summer Books 2018

‘The most accomplished working-class novel of the last few years.’ – Paul Simon, Morning Star

‘…a tapestry of working-class life in all its glory and pain.’ – Anthony Cartwright, author of Heartland

‘Edgy and arresting debut novel.’ – The Bookseller

‘… an unflinching tale about narratives at the heart of working class communities and the struggle to keep them alive.’ – Northern Soul

‘You may have to steel yourself to carry on, but it’s worth the journey.’

– The Northern Echo

'...nothing short of a triumph' - The Guardian

Selected in The Guardian’s Best Summer Books 2018

‘The most accomplished working-class novel of the last few years.’ – Paul Simon...


Advance Praise

When the literary depiction of working-class communities is often reduced to a lazy shorthand of grit and misery, this unflinching, clear-eyed and overall deeply human depiction of an estate’s glory days and its eventual decline is nothing short of a triumph. The Guardian 

Working class voices are not going unnoticed. Glen James Brown's debut novel Ironopolis was acclaimed as an 'extraordinary novel' in The Morning Star. Reviewer Paul Simon described the Middlesbrough-set book as 'breathtaking in its ambition and delivery.' 


Ironopolis is not a book that is easily glossed over. The prose, characters, and scale coalesce into one narrative distinctly different from anything you've read before. Simon identified a key aspect of what makes this novel stand out: the mythical river witch Peg Powler.

When the literary depiction of working-class communities is often reduced to a lazy shorthand of grit and misery, this unflinching, clear-eyed and overall deeply human depiction of an estate’s glory...


Marketing Plan

The book is to be re-released to coincide with Brown being a Gladstone's Library Fellow in April 2022.

The book is to be re-released to coincide with Brown being a Gladstone's Library Fellow in April 2022.


Available Editions

EDITION Paperback
ISBN 9781912681099
PRICE $15.95 (USD)

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Average rating from 18 members


Featured Reviews

How in the world did this book fly under the radar? I’ll admit I was pulled in by the cover and the blurb both as well as the title. But Christ I wasn’t expecting such a banger of a read. I must have highlighted 2/3 of the book. The writing is absolutely amazingly well done. The story itself is fresh and surreal. The care with which the author has constructed this is just…I don’t even know what to say. It felt like I was reading House of Leaves for the first time. Something so different and infectious almost. Like a book virus.

I’m finding it hard to review this without giving away details. Just read it.

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Ironopolis is an intriguing book that completely pulled me in from beginning to end. Filled with hints of eerie mystery, the story is told from the point of view from a handful of characters whose lives all interconnect in some way. Set around a tenement housing complex, the looming threat of redevelopment is a constant threat to the community and history of the people in this story. As the block I currently live on has been flattened for condos, I could relate to the feeling of being “pushed out”. The writing is really top notch, I could picture everything. Highly recommend.

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Thanks to Parthian Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review Ironopolis.

Set in a council housing estate over the course of about fifty years this is a really terrific blend of social commentary, small lives writ large, and a very limited and surgical use of English folk horror that threads the whole series of storylines together throughout the book.

I suppose it's a blend of novel and short story collection where characters are followed from early childhood through death, their paths knowingly and unknowingly continually crossing throughout which resulted for me in many cases of 'ooooooohhhhh.' There are a variety of narrative methods used including letters, interviews, footnotes so that and the multiple interlocking stories make for a complex but not difficult structure.

It's full of tragedy, humanity's good and bad sides, humor, and really does provide a sketch of how England's industrial and urban landscape was blighted and destroyed by Thatcherism - going from a new and booming community (which, as one of the characters points out, wasn't all roses) to a wasteland swallowed up by developers flogging the suburban dream that was welcomed by some as an improvement and fought against and decried by others.

I very much enjoyed this book. You could see similarities with Irvine Welsh and James Kelman in terms of the subject matter but the location and the use of the supernatural character and myth adds a unique element.

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I’ve read some very good books lately, but few that I have enjoyed and admired as much as Ironopolis. This novel by Glen James Brown is set in the Burn Council Estate, a fictional housing estate in Middlesborough (hence the title, an old nickname for the Yorkshire town). The estate was built in the heyday of operation of the local steelworks but is now facing and undergoing the demolition and “regeneration” typical of the post-industrial era.

The novel is made up of six interlinked stories, each with its own narrator and approach. Thus, the opening segment, set in 1991, is in epistolary style, as a middle-aged woman succumbing to cancer writes to an art dealer about her years of friendship with the now-famous cult painter Una Cruikshank. The penultimate chapter consists of transcripts of interviews (complete with footnotes) conducted by the woman’s son Alan who, almost three decades later, is investigating an episode of recent local history (the explosion of a wartime ordnance on New Year’s Eve) only to end up discovering long-buried secrets about his family. Other chapters adopt a more conventional style, and focus on other characters who live on the estate, such as Jim Clarke, a bisexual man who comes into his own in the acid music scene, or his sister, local hairdresser and gambling addict Corina Clarke.

The way in which Brown links the various narrative and plot threads is hugely impressive. At the beginning, the reader feels thrown in at the deep end. It takes some concentration to get to grips with the context. But the longer one reads, the more pieces fall into place, and new connections become evident. Some characters haunt all the chapters, despite not having an own voice. A case in point is painter Una Cruikshank, whose Gothic paintings of ghostly riverbanks are referenced in all the segments even though what we learn about her is “second hand”. The same goes for Vincent Barr, the local “strongman”, who features repeatedly as an object of terror, but eventually turns out to have his own fragilities. Perhaps the most (perplexingly? unexpectedly?) effective touch is the introduction of the mythical figure of Peg Powler, a female creature, at once horrid and seductive, said to inhabit the River Tees. Peg Powler makes an appearance in all the segments of the novel, lending a supernatural aura and an element of psychogeography to what is an otherwise ultra-realist working-class novel.

Glen James Brown’s narrative prowess would have been enough to make Ironopolis a great novel. But there’s more to it than post-modern bravura. For instance, Brown evokes a strong sense of place – the Burn Council Estate is so vividly described that one would be forgiven for thinking that it is a real rather than fictional setting. He also creates some memorable characters – I’m thinking particularly of Alan Barr, who comes into his own in the final parts of the book, or the tragic figure of Jim Clarke, still getting high to The Acid Life by Farley “Jackmaster” Funk for the sake of old times.

Ironopolis also has a political subtext (its shortlisting for the Orwell Prize is unsurprising as much as it is deserved). The novel's description of working-class life is bleak but not unremittingly so, finding warmth, humanity and a vein of black humour even in the direst of circumstances. This ambivalence is evident in the conflict feelings of the residents about the regeneration of the housing estate. Some see it as an opportunity to escape, others as the loss of a shared lifestyle going back generations.

This is a brilliant debut novel, but one which would have been no less impressive at the peak of a writer’s career.

https://endsoftheword.blogspot.com/2022/03/ironopolis-by-glen-james-brown.html

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