Snugville Street is somewhat of a strange title, giving next to nothing away about Angeline King’s self-published novel. Set in Belfast, the story depicts iconic places including Botanic Gardens, the Ulster Museum, Shankill and Falls roads and Methodist College. Belfast is an important place to me, full of people I care about, and I very luckily managed to spend a couple of months working in the city this past summer, so I thoroughly enjoyed the way Snugville Street brought some of my favourite places in Belfast all the way to my house in Exeter.
The plot follows an A Level student called Hannah who lives with her mum (Jean) and sister (Shelley) on Shankill road. Her father, Harry, is easily one of the most fascinating characters I’ve come across in ages. At the beginning of the story he is serving time for murder – but it’s a little more complicated than that. Shelley was a victim of the Shankill bomb, suffering a serious injury, which provoked Harry to seek violent revenge on one of the men behind the bomb. Themes of retribution and remorse run alongside family and parental relationships, bringing a sense of reality to the characters who are suffering from the troubles in the past as well as moving forward in the present.
On the down side there are quite a lot of characters to keep up with for such a short novel. It starts off simple enough, with Hannah and Jean being the main two, however this soon snowballs and by the end of the book I was struggling to keep track of everyone. This meant I could not fully explore all of the characters, therefore the action surrounding those I barely knew had little effect on me. For example, when Hannah announced her news, a major plotline, I was fully engaged, wondering what Jean would say and do and unable to read as fast as I wanted to, however I completely forgot about Gildas (Hannah’s other love) and so when he appeared again at the end of the novel, I probably didn’t feel the weight of Angeline’s intentions for the chapter.
Also, I was excited to see themes of mental health issues being raised in the early stages of the story but was disappointed when this wasn’t explored further. Did bipolar disorder affect the family? Or was it a form of depression often misdiagnosed in society, especially amongst men? There was so much potential for King to explore how mental health is looked upon in culture and she only scratched the surface.
Nonetheless, it’s important to note that what was included in the story was all excellent, the plot was fluid and well-paced while the characters were vivid. Whether you’ve been to Belfast or not, whether you know the history or not, I’m sure the story will capture your imagination and heart. Most importantly, Snugville Street showcases perspectives often overlooked in literature and offers an invaluable insight to life in Northern Ireland’s capital.