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Book Review: On Hampstead Heath by Marika Cobbold

On Hampstead Heath

I love it when an author you enjoyed years ago suddenly returns with a new book. It’s exciting, but you can’t help wondering what they’ve been doing in the meantime. So it is with Marika Cobbold, whose novels including Guppies for Tea, Shooting Butterflies and Drowning Rose I still fondly remember. But then there was nothing – not for ten years.

Now she's back with On Hampstead Heath, a book about what happens when a fake news story gets out of control and the damage it can cause. Thorn Marsh is a news editor on a London daily, loving her job, the pressure, the late nights, until the paper is sold and a new manager takes over. Thorn’s passion for truth and in-depth research doesn’t fit with an ethos that favours sales figures over facts.

Thorn – her real name is Rose, but Thorn suits her better, believe me – loses her job on the news desk, and is moved sideways into the supplements team. Here she has to come up with stories for The Bright Side. As the title suggests, these are heart-warming stories, but how do you write them when you’re not sure you even have a heart?

Thorn is a prickly character, but her understanding ex offers her inspiration and a night out and too much alcohol does the rest. Before you know it, she hands in a story just on deadline. Now everyone’s talking about the Angel of the Heath, and endless tweets and retweets threaten Thorn’s ability to live with herself, let alone front up to the mysterious man, the ‘angel’ with auburn hair for whom she, like everyone else, is more than a little smitten.

The reader follows Thorn’s awkward relationships with her mother, neighbours and ex-husband, as she tries to write more positive articles. All the while she can’t help digging herself deeper into trouble with the man she can’t forget. The story is told with a wonderful wit and humour, but themes around truth and storytelling, honesty and online fakery give it a bit of heft. The star of the book is Thorn, a memorable and oddly loveable character who is maybe just a little bit mad.

On Hampstead Heath is a welcome return from an author with a wry look on life and who writes like a dream. If you like London stories, eccentric characters or novels like Gail Honeyman's Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, give this one try.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: On Hampstead Heath

2 March 2022

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