Black Car Burning By Helen Mort – A Review (The Dylan Thomas Prize Longlist)

Publisher: Chatto & Windus

Publication Date: 4th April 2020

It’s my stop on the huge blog tour for the Dylan Thomas Prize longlist today and I am pleased to be bringing you my review of Black Car Burning by Helen Mort.

When I saw that this book had been included in the longlist I knew it was the one I wanted to read for the blog tour. I’d heard some great reviews over on Booktube and was really looking forward to reading it.

So what’s it all about?..


Alexa is a young police community support officer whose world feels unstable. Her father is estranged and her girlfriend is increasingly distant. Their polyamorous relationship – which for years felt so natural – is starting to seem strained. As she patrols Sheffield she senses the rising tensions in its disparate communities and doubts her ability to keep the peace, to help, to change anything.

Caron is pushing Alexa away and pushing herself ever harder. A climber, she fixates on a brutal route known as Black Car Burning and throws herself into a cycle of repetition and risk. Leigh, who works at a local gear shop, watches Caron climb and feels complicit.

Meanwhile, an ex-police officer compulsively revisits the April day in 1989 that changed his life forever. Trapped in his memories of the disaster, he tracks the Hillsborough inquests, questioning everything.

As the young women negotiate the streets of the city and its violent inheritance, the rock faces of Stanage and their relationships with each other, the urban and natural landscape watches over them, an ever-present witness. Black Car Burning is a brilliant debut novel of trust and trauma, fear and falling, from one of our best young writers.

My Thoughts:

What we have here in Black Car Burning are very compelling character studies. Each of the characters are battling their own internal demons whilst trying to mitigate external factors.

There are so many subjects tackled in this book, polyamorous lifestyles, post traumatic stress, cultural differences, social unrest and struggling relationships.

We all remember the Hillsborough Disaster and the rippling and devastating effects this had on lives and communities long after it had happened. The far reaching consequences on people’s lives and mental health. This is examined here and deftly handled with emotion and heart. The threads of fallout weaving their way through generations and still affecting lives many many years after the event itself.

I do have to say I was particularly interested in the central relationship between Alexa and Carron. I don’t think I’ve read a book which focuses on polyamourous relationships and the challenges that can be encountered. Alexa is deeply in love with Carron who almost feels like a bit of an enigma. She is a very charismatic woman who seems to draw people to her, not least Leigh.

This book has a huge sense of place as obviously it is set in Sheffield. I think if you have never been to Sheffield or have experience of the north you may not feel such an affiliation with the setting of the book. Sheffield is almost a fully formed character in itself and the main narratives are interspersed with the points of view of various different landmarks around the area. Personification at its best and a very nice touch in my opinion.

There are so many themes and subjects to unravel in this book that I feel like it would be an awesome book club pick. You can really delve deep into the psyche of these characters whilst learning about history and rock climbing and differing social classes and cultures.

I found Black Car Burning a really fascinating read and would recommend it.

Thank you to MidasPr for having me along on this huge blog tour! It’s been an absolute pleasure.

Please check out all the other reviews.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx


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