Reviews - Fiction

FUTURE TENSE

Cover image of Future Tense by Ken Champion

‘Ken Champion’s Future Tense is a novel of ideas brought to life by a cast of characters struggling in a new world order where Equality under a neo-liberal regime has been codified to an authoritarian extreme in an Orwellian dystopia. Meanwhile, the true master - internationally conglomerate capitalism - lets the puppets tangle their own strings. Champion, ever the master of unappealing male protagonists, leaves room for doubt and a semblance of redemption even if the better times of childhood may be more false dawns. With a strong, contemporary premise taking head-on the prominent controversies of today, this book ought to come with some kind of health-warning.’

Philip Ruthen, Waterloo Press

‘This novel depicts a Futurescape of dying liberties in a frightening moral minefield; its narrative form and critique of an increasingly dominant ideology create characters that are potently real. Some of this could, indeed, happen.’

Juli Jana

URBAN NARRATIVES

Cover image of Urban Narratives by Ken Champion

‘I thank him for gracing our magazine with his literature… his realism is enriched with imagination, the most real of all qualities.’

Meredith Sue Willis, Hamilton Stone Review

‘I think his work is amazing.’

Sarah Katharina Kayss, TheTransnational Magazine

‘Ken Champion seeks out situations and characters that are different. He describes them with freshness and directness, weaving story lines that flow through settings that have connotations of both the cameo and the epic. The visual descriptions reflect the author’s analytical voice which becomes a unique trademark. It all makes for a great read.’

Juli Jana

‘I’ve been a fan of Ken Champion’s work for quite a while now. He writes with empathy and honesty and includes more than a touch of dark humour. The compelling descriptions of urban landscapes ground the restlessness, defiance and unpredictability of the characters and allow him to explore the themes of, amongst others, relationships and death.

‘She in a department store, disappearing, and him, unguarded, panicking, intellectually knowing that it was the child in him being left by mummy - no emotions are new.’ (Fracture)

The beauty of a short story is that it doesn’t have to tie up every loose end and several of the stories contain coincidences that leave us wondering. They often contain hard truths.

‘The equation being that if he looked fit and tanned then he wouldn’t age, ergo, wouldn’t die. It was a subject he’d never studied: the psychology of death.' (Lay Preacher)

I’m already looking forward to his next publication.’

Joanna Ezekiel

Stories from URBAN NARRATIVES

ART HOUSE

‘A beautifully written and poignant story.’

Ronna Wineberg, Bellevue Literary Review

RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS

‘In this story, Ken Champion provides richly developed characters that contemplate their relationship to Christ, to culture, and to each other. His character, Steve, develops a relationship with a younger, African student, Thandi Mnede. Even when these characters are together, they are worlds apart, Steve’s sense of isolation deriving from his intellectualized disbelief in faith.’

Monica K. Mankin, The Literary Magazine Review, University of Wisconsin

THE BEAT YEARS

‘I found some beautiful writing here.’

Susie Reynolds, Chimera

FRACTURE

‘I really do like this story. He deals with a potentially melodramatic ending with real elegance and lightness of touch - the last two lines are heartbreaking,’

Silkworms Ink

THE POLITICOS

Cover image of The Politicos by Ken Champion

'Before turning his considerable talent to the prose form, effortlessly turning out the kind of clever, drily comic literary novels that tend to invite praise, Ken Champion used to craft elegant, narrative verse.

Times change, and for his latest novel Champion has changed gear to accommodate the conspicuously angry mood of the moment. Further sharpening an increasingly political style, THE POLITICOS is his most engaged piece of writing yet; using a twin-track narrative to confront the major issues of the age, taking in class, ideology, immigration, identity and alienation.

And as befits a seasoned portraitist of a changing London, he neatly captures the shifting landscape and language of the city he so clearly loves, embracing the personal as well as the political in an epic novel that makes us think, laugh and cry. Expect to be tantalised and challenged; even shocked as Champion turns his withering gaze on troubled times.

Have no doubt; THE POLITICOS is the authentic sound of the post-crash suburbs.’

Chris Connelley, Hastings Independent

‘Ken Champion’s novels don’t fit conventional genres, but are always intellectually satisfying. In this, two men - a left wing lecturer and a neophyte conservative member of Parliament - are involved with a politically committed woman. Champion enriches his story with a study of class differences, a critique of Freudian psychology, and the architecture of London in a gripping narrative of love and politics.'

Meredith Sue Willis, Books For Readers, USA

'In this enjoyably topical and expansive novel of ideas and conflicting ideologies, our expectations are compellingly challenged. Champion, as always, has a very good ear for sharp dialogue and unusual expressions, which enliven the novel, developing a sense of urgency.

When the two main characters become strangely linked they are forced to re-think their lives and whether what they want can still be found in a city that is changing at a bewildering rate.'

Joanna Ezekiel

THRUST

Cover image of Thrust by Ken Champion

'This is Champion's best novel to date. It carries acute observations of people struggling to find ways of urban living where forces, at times beyond their control, bend and strain their lives.'

Philip Ruthen, Waterloo Press

'In this expansive new novel, Ken Champion, whose reputation was forged on the basis of his talent for exquisite miniaturism and ability to anatomise the subtleties of relationships in his beloved London, confidently strides the global stage, cleverly inter-linking three lives as he reflects on what success means for people and places in the crash-and-burn economy of the 20th Century.

At times angry, funny, touching and tender, THRUST is a compelling read posing huge questions that demand our full attention.'

Chris Connelley, Hastings Independent

‘The reader never doubts that the separate threads of this novel will be gathered up in the end, and they are - along with satisfying surprises, revelations and a climactic dialogue about the meaning of ‘progress’ in a city’s construction.

Champion’s story-telling pulls you in and draws everything together in a final knot that lingers in memory and imagination.’

Meredith Sue Willis, Books for Readers, USA

‘This is an enjoyably bold portrait of life in cosmopolitan cities. There are intriguing parallels and contrasts between its main characters, who are, as usual, authentic, original and well-drawn. Especially pleasing are the observations of city life and the descriptions of London.’

Joanna Ezekiel

KEEFIE

Cover image of Keefie by Ken Champion

‘This is a splendid novel of the London Blitz that captures life mostly through the eyes of a bright and creative working class boy. Keith’s knowledge of what’s going on is limited, but his experience leads us deep into a time and place – and the lives of ordinary people – with more power than any history book could convey.'

Meredith Sue Willis, Hamilton Stone Review

'After his widely acclaimed existential thriller, The Dramaturgical Metaphor, Champion’s new offering, Keefie, occupies very different territory.

Opening amongst the narrow, grimy, tree-free streets of 1930s East London where his titular hero is growing up and making sense of his world in the run-up to war, Champion brings a community to life, brilliantly capturing the claustrophobic life of work, traditional gender roles and family amongst the white working class that once dominated these neighbourhoods, deploying his mastery of conversation to powerful effect as he anatomises the rules, restrictions and unspoken resentments of a tightly bounded, long lost world.

Once again, Champion has produced a clever novel that is both distinctive and profoundly unsettling, and whilst there may be an overwhelming sadness at the core of the story, there’s also something decidedly beautiful about the way it is told; shining the tiniest flicker of light into the author’s bomb-ravaged wartime landscape.'

Chris Connelley, Hastings Independent

‘I really enjoyed this novel. Ken Champion brings his flair for vivid description and precise period detail to this authentic story of three characters living through the darkest days of the Second World War in England. There is the talented young Keefie, evacuated from London’s East End to Norfolk, his kind mother, Ruth, who dreams of a happy family life in the suburbs, and curious New Yorker, Robert, teaching in Norfolk and disregarding the segregation rules of his own country to strike up a friendship with intellectual, privileged Prudence. As Prudence says, ‘Normlessness is the norm’ in a changing world, and each character’s struggle to survive and adapt is sensitively and satisfactorily realised.’

Joanna Ezekiel

‘An evocative portrayal of the East End in the run up to the Blitz opens this engaging new novel from Ken Champion. This is a rich depiction of working class life, traditional gender roles and a family ill at ease with their emotions. Seen through the eyes of Keith, a bright, inquisitive boy trying to understand the world around him, we’re cleverly shown - and crucially able to feel - the subtle influences that set out what’s expected, what constitutes ‘normal’.

This is a novel about belonging, which explores contrasts: city and country life; intellectual and emotional knowledge and assumptions of black and white identity. At its heart are three characters all ‘set apart’ in some way: Keith by his creative sensitivity and love of words which sees him bullied at school; Robert transplanted from the Bronx to the Norfolk countryside in his first academic job; and sophisticated African student Prudence, a privileged diplomat's daughter.

Against a backdrop of air raids and rationing, and with his trademark warm humour and razor-sharp observations, Ken Champion has created a story that reminds us that we can’t know others simply by what defines them socially. As Robert discovers, theory is meaningless without lived experience.

This is a thoughtful book, which wears its thinking lightly, privileging the authenticity of characters living through their mistakes, doubts and fears. Champion’s eye for detail and vivid, unsentimental writing suggests rather than lectures. He shows us a crowd forced to shelter in the underground during an air raid unpacking food, bedding down, sharing music and songs; he shows us Prudence’s head leaning on Robert’s shoulder… and we get it. Ultimately, what sets us apart is less important than what brings us together.

This is a lovely story and deserves to be read widely, deserves to be known.’

Kim Lasky

NOIR

Cover image of Noir by Ken Champion

'This is probably Ken Champion’s best novel to date, a book of great depth, tightly written and with a surprise - and so much life - on almost every page. Its main character, Vincent, is one of the author’s vivid working class men who, after a university education, lives a life awash with anger at a world that doesn't allow any real integration between his roots and present life. A professor of racially diverse adult students and a wanderer through London, Vincent begins an emotionally intriguing journey with a woman who lives in the vintage clothes of a past era, the story line following their relationship. The end is determined both by Vincent’s dissatisfactions and by the shock of the brutal, random events of real life. It’s an unusual, gripping book.'

Meredith Sue Willis, Hamilton Stone Review, USA

'I really enjoyed Ken Champion’s latest novel and am still thinking about its characters. It portrays the lives of a small group of contemporary people who have links to the music and fashion re-enactment scenes of the 1940s and ‘50s. He sensitively explores their involvement with them, their connections to each other, and the losses that have shaped them.

Cultural influences, particularly cinematic scenes, are used imaginatively as themes, while class divisions, diversity, and the use of language are sharply observed. Acute insights into the demands and freedom of city life and of academia further make this novel an absorbing read.

This is a writer who pays intense attention to the extraordinary details of ordinary life.'

Joanna Ezekiel

‘Ken Champion creates more off-beat characters in contemporary East London where, as always, his descriptive details add lustre to a setting where love and disillusionment flourish. A must-read.’

Juli Jana

‘Poet turned prose-master Ken Champion’s new novel is set in the East London mobility belt that sprawls from the newly hipster areas of Tower Hamlets through 1930s suntrap suburbia out into the Essex Badlands where escapees from the old East End populate the seaside bungalows and the now middle-aged new towns.

His notional backdrop is the tight-knit world of World War 2 nostalgia, whose aficionados travel the country in pursuit of vintage fashion and to hear big band sounds. Hovering on the fringe of one of these events, social science lecturer, Vincent, chances upon a veiled woman who he becomes obsessed by. As their relationship develops, she, newly liberated from domestic tragedy, invites Vincent to move out of London to live with her in her remote Victorian cottage on Mersea Island.

Champion then opts to take a walk on the wild side, charting Vincent’s suffocation in his new rustic setting and his increasing alienation from mainstream cultural values.

An everyman on the edge, Vincent is angry and insecure in an ill-mannered metropolis defined by rampant consumerism and a clamouring for instant gratification. Gorging junk food in public, littering, hollering on mobile phones, the tolerance of intolerance; Vincent rages against them all.

These are vast, topical themes, edging Champion closer to explicitly political discussion than in any of his previous work, ensuring NOIR enjoys deep currency in a year that has seen alienation and anger, on the part of a disconnected public, generate upset on both the domestic and international stage.

This novel is very much of its time, combining social realism with a dreamlike intensity as a man out of his depth tries to make sense of a world out of control.’

Chris Connelley, Hastings Independent

THE BEAT YEARS

Cover image of The Beat Years by Ken Champion

‘There are all the joys of Ken Champion’s writing here – a vivid depiction of time and place created with painterly skill, telling humour, characters both bound by and railing against society’s expectations. This is a world rich and busy with the banter, camaraderie and cruelty of daily life.

At its heart is the story of Ben, coming of age in the East End of the fifties, whose encounter with the adventurous, liberated Beat Years is merely glanced at in the pages of Kerouac’s On the Road. His struggle to move beyond the grey predictability and stifling life mapped out for him is shown through his drifting friendship with Johnny who shares his urge to escape and the desire to explore beyond the limits of what’s expected. But both learn that freedom isn't so easy. Chances glide past, becoming the roads not travelled, as Ben’s life is defined by the choices he makes.’

Kim Lasky

‘In his latest novella, Champion returns to the distinctive territory of family, work and identity as experienced in the aftermath of war in the grim, treeless, rubble-strewn terraced streets of a still mono-cultural East London.

It tells the story of Ben Stevens as he undergoes the rite of passage from boy to man, shedding light on a long-lost world of black-and-white television, rigidly defined gender roles and, most importantly, the suffocating straitjacket of class. This manifests itself in a myriad of ways within and across social classes, from the forelock-tugging fawning sycophancy of Ben’s father (“a man of few skills his instinct told him that to survive he would have to defer”) through to the internalised codes that differentiate the ‘respectable’ from the ‘rough’ working classes and, most starkly, in the seemingly irreconcilable divisions between classes.

Though informed by these timeless, even epic themes, Champion’s descriptive strength comes partly from his ability to capture the intimate detail of routine domestic settings. His characterisation is pretty faultless, too, and there’s also a lovely cameo of a narcissistic gym master that’s worth the cover price in its own right.

Champion’s stark and sometimes disturbing stories, told often with anger and a dust-dry wit, manage to reach out to the general reader whilst also generating plaudits from critics and peers. And he is not only prolific, he is near as damnit pitch-perfect as he turns in yet another assured narrative that effortlessly snares the reader and draws us into its grainy, lost world.’

Chris Connelley, Hastings Independent

‘This novella captures coming-to-adulthood in working class London in the mid-twentieth century with gritty accuracy and a moving story of friendship and the effort to live a more intellectual life. Ben and Johnny are young Londoners whose rather stifled education leads them into working on building sites. Ben, reading philosophy and anything else he can get his hands on and engaged in a long, unhappy battle with his father, is especially caught up by Kerouac's On the Road, which he and Johnny yearn to emulate.

The plot is both profound and familiar – growing up, trying for a life of the mind, making compromises. It is a powerful evocation of the struggle to create a meaningfully examined life through friendship and a passionate engagement with ideas.’

Meredith Sue Willis, Books for Readers, USA

THE DRAMATURGICAL METAPHOR

Cover image of The Dramaturgial Metaphor by Ken Champion

‘After creating psychoanalyst James Kent as the centrepiece of a compelling series of short stories, Urban Narratives, Champion now works his descriptive magic on a novella. Whilst notionally subscribing to a thriller format, he has actually produced a highly disciplined novel of ideas more readily associated with the European tradition, reflecting on the nature of identity and the impact of class in a postmodern age.

Clever yet elegant, Champion benefits from the taut styling and descriptive precision that derive from his poetry, capturing a sense of time and place that transport us to his host locations, whilst also slightly dislocating our assumptions. Think Jean-Paul Sartre reimagining Alastair Maclean.

In James Kent, Champion has created a textured and flawed hero, someone who is opinionated, contrarian, vulnerable and humane; and someone definitely deserving of further outings. More please; and soon.’

Chris Connelly, Hastings Independent

‘If you’re expecting to read titles of comparative texts by well-known writers littered throughout a tribute to Ken Champion, you are mistaken - he’s not that kind of writer. The author is rare amongst his peers in social and literary relevance for he can present the lost, the mistaken, the sophistication doggedly clung to in despair, and bring into being the deepest, unspoken tenderness. Following the psycho-geography of much of Urban Narratives, a story collection whose exploration of themes and ideas are broadened into similarly disturbed planes in The Dramaturgical Metaphor, Champion introduces a protagonist randomly and artfully directing Kundera-esque scenarios across Europe to escape from a damaged ego while searching for an idealised one. This new novel is not only to be admired for style and pace, but to be felt, to be angry at.’

Philip Ruthen, Waterloo Press

‘This novella is ostensibly about a psychotherapist’s road trip with a client who has too much money to spend. James, the protagonist, looking for extra cash and something different in his life, accepts the odd offer to 'observe' him in Paris, Rome then back to London. It’s a gripping ride, hard to capture, but deeply worthwhile to experience.’

Meredith Sue Willis, Hamilton Stone Review

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