SCEPTRE £10.99 £10.99 (+ £2.25 P&P PER ORDER) 0870 800 1122

Bliss Street By Kris Kenway

Boy meets girl and falls for a city

First impressions can be terribly misleading. Our introduction to James, a former director of music videos turned mobile phone salesman, is distinctly unpromising. From the opening pages of Kris Kenway's latest novel, it's clear that we're in early midlife crisis territory, as the hero frets about his dead-end job and his failing relationship with sexy-but- distant girlfriend, Fran.

Skip to chapter two, in which we meet our heroine, Maya - beautiful, single and under pressure from an overbearing mother to choose from an endless stream of suitors. So far, so underwhelming. The trajectory of the book looks to be back-of-fag-packet stuff: boy is going to meet girl, conquer obstacles, live happily ever after.

In some ways, the synopsis isn't inaccurate. But there's another hero in this story, and it puts all the other players in the shade. By chapter three, James - yawning his way through another business trip - is making an enforced stopover in Beirut, Maya's home city, and the place which sparks the narrative into life.

Kenway's affection for Lebanon shines from every page. James emerges into the chaos of its streets struggling to reconcile the landscape he expects to see - the broken pavements and bullet-ridden buildings - with unnerving reminders of home - the ubiquitous Ben and Jerry's, and Pizza Hut. Beirut, he observes, "whispered to you that it was European, but the only people who heard it were those who weren't listening properly."

The cityscape opens up the horizons of Kenway's tale. A large cast is assembled, from wide-boy Hassan, nursing a private grief over the brother he has not seen for 10 years, to Mrs Jihad, a gossipy and interfering neighbour with secrets of her own to hide, to 13-year-old Mahmoud, longing to impress the girls with wheelies on his pizza-delivery bike. The timeframe of the narrative is tightly compressed - by chapter 15, we're a mere three months into James's new life. Kenway has also chosen to set his story in the recent past, in a Lebanon poised for the Israeli withdrawal from the south of the country. The pull-out of the troops forms the backdrop to the novel's closing chapters as each of the protagonists attempts to escape into a more hopeful future.

Not all the narrative strands are interwoven successfully. The story of Aisha, James's cleaner and a refugee from the Sabra-Shatila camp, feels self-consciously worthy. Similarly, some paragraphs on the provenance of blood diamonds could have migrated from the pages of a Sunday supplement. But Kenway manages to create a world which, despite the occasional false notes, fully engages the reader's sympathies.

The tourist in him sometimes overwhelms the novelist - there are a few painful funny-foreigner moments, and a description of a wedding that seems rather unnecessary to the plot. In other hands, this could easily have slipped into thinly disguised travelogue, but Kenway sustains an intimate portrait of Beirut life from an outsider's point of view. Perhaps his experience will inspire other writers to move their fictions into less familiar orbits.

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot