It’s always such a pleasure to discover an author – and a thoroughly lovely book – that hasn’t had anything like the exposure it really deserves. I’m not the first to discover it – there were really good reviews on two of my favourite book blogs, Random Things Through My Letterbox and Linda’s Book Bag, which initially piqued my interest, so when Russell Mardell, the author, asked if I’d like to read and review… well, he didn’t have to ask twice. Cold Calling was published by Troubadour in March 2016 and is available in paperback and for kindle – and I thought it was enchanting. Here’s the blurb:
Still reeling from the break-up with the love of his life, insurance firm cold-caller Ray English has become a bit of a screw up. Cynical and withdrawn, Ray is aimlessly drifting through life in London with his long suffering best friend, Danny. However, once he is asked to reform his college band for a friend’s wedding, Ray is soon forced to face up to his old life, and the hometown he had tried so hard to turn his back on.
Anya Belmont is a woman with a secret and a history that continues to shape her life. A coffee shop owner in Salisbury, Anya is successful, yet bored; married, yet lonely. She is also slowly being driven to distraction by her highly temperamental friend, the child-hating children’s author, Eva Cunningham. Through fate, coincidence or just bad timing, Ray and Anya’s lives begin to change when Ray cold-calls Anya and the two strike up a seemingly innocuous conversation. Against their better judgement, their conversation is soon the start of a relationship played out over the phone. But can there ever be anything real in a phone call?
A sharp-witted, saccharine-free, thoroughly modern tale of lost loves and found friendships.
That tells you what you might want to know about the story – what it doesn’t tell you about is the quite superb characterisation. Extremely cleverly, the story is told in the distinctive separate voices of Ray, Anya, Danny and Eva, with their different “takes” on the situations in the story, and their own personalities and observations about each other (and about life in general) colouring their telling of the story.
Ray’s one of those people that finds life a challenge to cope with – in therapy over a lost love, stuck in a job he needs (but detests) to make ends meet, sharing a flat with childhood friend Danny (I loved their “old married couple” relationship, and conversations peppered with “love” and “dear”). Anya’s in love with her husband – he may not be exciting, and she might see less of him than she wants to, but she does love him. Her other significant long-term relationship is with friend Eva – a wonderfully self-centred and successful writer of children’s books, but who hates children and despises the way they come to see her dressed up as characters. She’s a fantastic caricature, but with a real ring of truth about her, and a disregard for anything other than her own issues that frequently makes you wince (while laughing rather uncomfortably).
The whole premise for the story – the cold call that becomes a telephone friendship – is both highly original and superbly handled. The book is infused with a wry humour – and a few laugh-out-loud moments – but is also immensely warm-hearted and touching, with a depth of observation on the human condition that might surprise. On his website, the author confesses a liking for “acid-tongued, sarky, gobby folk” – I really rather like them too. Loved it.
My thanks to author Russell Mardell for providing my review copy.
About the author
Russell is a novelist, playwright, producer and sometime director based in the south west of England.
A music obsessive and film geek, he drinks too much tea and still, despite being given many reasons not to, retains a lifelong passion for Everton football club.