On the Bookshelf...

Cold Fish Soup

Adam Farrer

Before Adam Farrer’s family relocated to Withernsea in 1992, he’d never heard of the Holderness coast. The move represented one thing to Adam: a chance to leave the insecurities of early adolescence behind. And he could do that anywhere. What he didn’t know was how much he’d grow to love the quirks and people of this faded Yorkshire resort, in spite of its dilapidated attractions and retreating clifftops. While Adam documents the minutiae of small-town life, he lays bare experiences that are universal. His insights on family, friendship, male mental health and suicide are revealed in stories of reinvention, rapacious seagulls, interdimensional werewolves, burlesque dancing pensioners, and his compulsion towards the sea. Cold Fish Soup is an affectionate look at a place and its inhabitants, and the ways in which they can shape and influence someone, especially of an impressionable age. Adam’s account explores what it means to love and be shaped by a place that is under threat, and the hope – and hilarity – that can be found in community.

I'd read a lot about this book before I picked it up. So when I visited Hull last week, I naturally picked up a copy from JE Books in Hepworth's Arcade ( the best bookshop in Yorkshire by the way). It wasn't a book I'd normally buy, as I don't read many non-fiction books, preferring to immerse myself in fiction. However, reading the blurb and the references to male mental health, made me think this book was worth reading.

I've suffered from anxiety and other mental health issues for the last ten years, and to read someone else's experiences was revealing. The book covers the author's life in Withernsea and the North over the past twenty years or so. It's not a depressing read, but one full of hope and at times joy. It's a heart-warming read, told with a lot of humour and honesty by Adam.

I, too, live in an unfashionable, rundown town and although not living on the coast can relate to Withernsea. It's a town you can tell Adam has two minds over. Although he's still drawn to the town which tells of his love for that windswept town. Along the story you find out more about the town. Originally he'd been commissioned to write a book about the Holderness coast, but as always it evolved into something more. It's a story of coping with the world the best way you can. A story told with the backdrop of lockdown and a craving to return to the coast.

I loved the book, The characters you meet are real, some couldn't be imagined even if you tried. His mother is a wonderful person, full of light and joy. Her escapades with her burlesque show made me laugh. His relationship with his father was loving, yet they struggle to connect. His constant companion, Millie, a rescue dog on her last days, is always there for Adam. I must admit to a tear at the end when I found she'd passed on since the book. His brothers' death was heart-wrenching. To lose anyone is difficult, but one before his time is tragic.

Altogether it's a wonderful love message to his youth and the Holderness coast. I can't recommend this book highly enough. Male mental health is difficult for us to talk about. Thanks to Adam, I know I'm not alone. My non-fiction book of the year.

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Review by
AJ Steel
April 5, 2023

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