“Thirst” reveals a side of London not often seen. A Siberian woman named Alena is caught attempting to shoplift a pair of shoes by the store’s security man Dave. The reason why she tries to commit this act of robbery isn’t what you’d immediately expect. Dave forgives Alena despite the trouble it causes him with his superior. Seeing that Alena is in a distressed position he goes even further and allows her to stay in his small apartment until she can get back on her feet. What follows is an unlikely bond between two people who have experienced a lot of hardship in their lives. 

Accounts of Alena and Dave’s personal histories slip in between sections of the present-day narrative. This is handled so delicately it’s like one hand sliding over another revealing the layers of their lives. It also creates tension in the story as both of them have emerged from very bad situations and it makes you constantly wonder how they get to the point where they find each other. They create a strange sort of domestic bliss together, but when Alena’s past imposes itself upon the present they are abruptly torn apart and it’s only through a massive leap of faith on Dave’s part that they might find one another again. This is a love story. It’s one which is made up of two characters who have endured strife and disappointment, but need to find the courage to open up to one another for a chance at harmony.

It’s a known tale: an immigrant comes to a “developed” country and finds everything isn’t as rosy as the way they imagined it. Where this book departs is the pernicious way that Alena turns from the oppressed to the oppressor – or, at least, an instrument used to foster oppression. This produces a dark and twisted psychology. It shows the complex layers of a hidden underbelly of society that feeds on abuse, fear and secrecy. It’s only through a tremendous act of will that Alena is able to break free. She’s extremely vulnerable being lost in the giant organism of London and it’s only through chance that she meets with an act of kindness from Dave. A querulous outsider might view such an instant bond as unbelievable, but Hudson eloquently explains Dave’s reasoning like this: “He’d admit it, he was reckless. Blind to the danger of letting a strange stranger have everything of him. And though it was her ripe, warm beauty that had made it hard for him to think around her at first, it was all the rest that was the hook that snagged in his insides, never to be pulled out.” There can be something about a person which catches you and makes you take a chance on something you’d normally back away from.

There is more here than the romantic heart. What this novel is really about is the distance between ourselves and strangers – particularly in large cities and when travelling. What’s the right amount of empathy to show to strangers? Surely you can’t walk around with an open heart to everyone in need. You’d never get across the city. Never get to work on time. But if you walk around with a stony gaze you begin to feel inhuman, jaded, disconnected. Likewise this novel shows our own desperation for kindness when out of our element. Dave embarks on a long journey to an extremely remote part of Siberia where the smallest gesture of kindness can seem like a life raft. Of course, this book doesn’t offer a solution to this question of distance. How can there be one? But it does point out the reverberating effects of both large and small bits of kindness. Moreover it shows the way regret can pile up in the backs of our minds – haunted by instances where we wanted to reach out and didn’t. Hudson acknowledges that: “it is hard to live with the knowledge of certain things, let alone a knowledge that allowed you to imagine you could have done something to change things, to help someone you love.” “Thirst” reveals the best and the worst of humanity. It shows the way the world perpetually opens and closes to us and that there is an endless stream of possibilities. Whether you choose to only smile or hold out your hand or walk on by: opportunity goes both ways and there is always the potential of a connection.

I also loved Hudson's first novel which I wrote about at the end of last year here. She's one of the most creative literary voices in the UK right now. But, given Hudson's earlier title, I was hoping this new novel would be named something more elaborate like "The Thirsty Siberian Who Stole My Shoes, Ate All My IceCream & Barely Had Change for a Fiver." However, the brevity of her chosen title suits the subject matter perfectly.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesKerry Hudson

Richard Ford - Canada

Tony Hogan Bought Me An IceCream Float Before He Stole My Ma – Kerry Hudson

Flight Behaviour - Barbara Kingsolver

Union Atlantic – Adam Haslett

Black Bread White Beer – Niven Govinden

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

Artful – Ali Smith

Harvest – Jim Crace

The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

The Wasp Factory – Ian Banks

My top books of the year are mostly new releases with big Booker winner “The Luminaries” taking a prominent place. It’s such a complex, rewarding and intelligent novel it did really deserve to win the Booker. Speaking of award winners the book that I think should have won this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction was Kingsolver’s “Flight Behaviour.” It’s a really heartfelt story of a woman making difficult choices in her private life as well as a moving meditation on environmental issues. I know many people are tired of reading the nearly-universal and never-ending praise for Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” but it really is one of my top reads and totally mesmerized me. Another acclaimed writer whose book I absolutely loved was Richard Ford’s novel “Canada” which peters out somewhat towards the end, but has the most heart-breaking opening section. A book that totally swept me away was Ali Smith’s novel-ish book “Artful” which redefines the limits of what can be done in fiction while making every page feel immediately important and relevant to my life. "Harvest" attacked my subconscious and made its way into my dreams to leave me haunted and wondering. I’ve read Adam Haslett’s powerful stories before so was very excited to finally get to his novel “Union Atlantic” which is a really fascinating story about a few very different central characters and also a novel that critiques the causalities and pitfalls of capitalism gone mad. Two British books that captivated me are “Black Bread White Beer” and “Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma.” They explore areas of society and issues not often covered in contemporary fiction. Sadly, the author Iain Banks died this year which prompted me to reread “The Wasp Factor.” It’s so unbelievably original and has so many interesting things to say about masculinity and human nature. Now I must get to his other books.

It’s been interesting how starting this blog has prompted me to read more although I always have been an avid reader. I’m not sure anyone actually reads my posts (if you do thank you), but I’ve been enjoying the way writing about books helps me organize my thoughts and put them down someplace so I won’t forget them. Hopefully I’ll continue on all throughout next year. I know there are so many great books I didn't get to read this year. As always, I'm trying to catch up.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
6 CommentsPost a comment

From the first magnificently shocking line of this long-titled novel, I was instantly gripped by the powerful and original voice of the narrator. Like David Copperfield the book starts with the narrator Janie’s birth and the story continues on following her till the brink of adulthood. Janie Ryan is raised by her fascinating strong-willed filthy-mouthed mother who has returned to her mother’s house in Scotland after becoming pregnant after a short spate of living in London. The pair move all over the UK through a variety of social housing and exist on the perilous knife-edge between Monday benefit cheques and total poverty. Along the way Janie witnesses horrific scenes of abuse against her mother from a drug dealer she takes up with named Tony Hogan. Far from being something out of the ordinary amongst Janie and her friends it’s simply acknowledged “That’s what das do.” Although her mother finally escapes abusive Tony he eventually turns up again disrupting the modest peace and comfort Janie and her mother have been able to find on their own: “Tony smothered the life that me and Ma had built, a furry mould growing over a sweating slab of cheese.” With Janie’s mother dealing with problems of abusive men, poverty, substance abuse and depression she is forced into taking on a more adult role to protect their fragile existence: “We were a glass family, she was a glass ma and I needed to wrap us up, handle her gently.” Through a lot of strife and hardship Janie gradually grows to become as fiercely independently-minded as her mother: “Ryan Women, with filthy tempers, filthy mouths and big bruised muscles for hearts.” While dealing with a lot of difficult and painful subject matter, Hudson is able to maintain a lot of hilarity and genuine warmth in the story through her incredible array of characters and an inventive use of language.

One of the great things this book does is expose the inherent sexism of society especially when discussing pregnancy amongst people from poor backgrounds: “People thought it was an epidemic or something to do with the tides, ‘so many careless girls in one year’. Not one word about the careless lads.” Equally it exposes a troubling attitude towards women who drink, dress provocatively and stay out late at night: “they’d say it again, ‘You see? Hammered. Asking for it.’” Not only is physical and sexual violence overlooked by those around them, it’s passively condoned as something normal and that women of a certain “type” seek out. While the world may gasp in shock when someone of the upper classes like Nigella Lawson is shown with a man’s hand gripped around her neck, they’d be more likely to roll their eyes or turn away in embarrassment and fear when seeing an intoxicated woman on benefits being similarly abused by a man. This is a sick fact of inequality based on social and economic status. Hudson also shows how difficult it is to work towards a better life once you’ve been pigeonholed as coming from a certain class. In one scene at school Janie meets with a jobs advisor who rebuffs her aspirations to study law with the claim that his “job is managing expectations” rather than helping her to realize these dreams.


A great joy of reading this novel is the powerful way Hudson uses language to evoke her characters through dialogue in a way that makes them instantly familiar and understandable. The voice of the narrator also beautifully evokes the sense of time and place making it feel immediate and real. This is particularly effective in the way she frequently references the smells around her as in one scene in a cramped car travelling across the UK: “The car stank, layer upon later of reek, my feet stewing in my Docs (hormones Ma said), Doug’s ‘silent but violents’, though he delicately lifted one arse cheek when he let one off so it was hardly a secret, onions, lard and our unbrushed teeth thick with stale sugar.” This instantly takes the reader there and grounds them in Janie’s reality. I admire how Kerry Hudson has been able to cast light upon a part of British society not often seen or discussed. It’s a tremendously accomplished work of fiction.

This is the second book I’ve read which is nominated for this year’s Polari First Book Prize. It’s totally different from The Tale of Raw Head & Bloody Bones. I don’t think there is a useful way to compare them and I don’t think I could choose which should win the prize over the other so I’m more eager than ever to hear what the result will be on November 13th. However, Hudson’s novel is also nominated for the Scottish Book Awards which can be voted on by the public here: http://www.scottishbookawards.com/vote/

While I haven’t read any of the other books listed for this prize I’d strongly suggest you support Hudson’s book by voting for her to encourage an innovative and very promising author.