The Sea Inside His Head

Written by Theresa Le Flem
Review by Sarah Bower

Set in the Kent coalfields during the miners’ strike of 1984, this debut novel explores the dilemmas of a miner, Bradley, who finds himself torn between breaking the strike and taking voluntary redundancy in order to buy the smallholding on which he has set his heart, or carrying on the strike as his wife, Helen, who has found a new meaning to her life in the campaign to keep their pit open, would wish. Bradley’s sister, Kim, pregnant and terrified on the consequences, also preys on his mind as he struggles to make the right decision.

I must confess an interest here, as I worked in the steel industry in Sheffield all through the strike and have been absorbed by the fiction which has begun to emerge from its traumatic events in recent years, in the work, for example, of David Peace and Philip Hensher. Le Flem’s is a very different kind of novel to either Peace’s or Hensher’s. It is just as political, and expresses just as much deep-rooted anger about what happened to mining communities, but in this warm-hearted, ultimately optimistic story of one family’s fight to survive, the political is entirely personalised. Readers who come to the novel free of the kind of background I bring to it will find much to enjoy in a nicely written, engaging family saga set against what is now, for most people, no more than a gripping piece of social history.

An assured and delightful debut.