Today is publication day for Neil Campbell and his novel Sky Hooks. This is Campbell’s debut novel, having previously published short story collections and poetry. I was very happy to receive a review copy of this book, which tells the story of an ordinary man navigating life in the shadow of what might have been…
‘I looked at my hands, the in-grained dirt, sealed in by the oil and grease of the fittings I laboured to count every day, the hands that every woman I met could never fail to see.’
Its protagonist is a man for whom life turned out a little differently than he hoped. After an injury puts an end to his hopes of a successful football career, he finds himself working as a warehouseman. Spending long hours in the warehouse counting parts takes its toll, and it soon becomes clear that he is struggling within this mundane existence. He turns to drink for comfort, to numb the pain he feels for having left a dream behind. He also longs for the comfort of women but finds relationships daunting, instead preferring to rely on prostitutes. But as he continues to live this life in working class Manchester, he is constantly thinking of what might have been, or what might be in the future. And although his football dream is over, books and writing could prove to be just what he needs to find a new path in life.
‘What I like about books is that everything always stays in the same place and you can find what you are looking for in pages you hold in your own hands.’
Early on in the book, I had mixed feelings about its narrator. The use of language and in particular that used to describe the women he was obsessed with meant I didn’t warm to him immediately. However, the more I read, the more I started to see through the bravado and see the complexity of his character. There was a vulnerability to him that I found endearing, and I could sympathise with his situation in terms of feeling trapped in certain aspects of his life. Here was a man living what could be considered a stereotypical working class male lifestyle centred around drink, women and football, the latter of which was a passion which could have given him wealth and happiness. When this dream is shattered he is forced to piece together a new life and he longs to travel, to experience and to write. And he wishes to find someone he can share that with. This is a relatively short novel, at around 160 pages, but within these pages its protagonist goes on something of a personal journey, a journey of realisation, and of hope.
‘How had ended up like this? Sport is not pointless. It holds the promise of a dream, and the promise of a dream is something to keep you going.’
I enjoyed reading Sky Hooks and found it to be a heartfelt account of one man’s journey of self discovery. It is at times moving and thought provoking, and it explores the challenges we face as we learn to adjust in what can be an unfair world.
Sky Hooks was published on 25th October 2016 by Salt Publishing. Many thanks to Hannah Corbett for providing a copy for review.