SMALL JOYS - a review by Marc Forrest-Thomas

It’s difficult to express just how much I loved this book but the one thing that I constantly tell people is that reading it felt like being enveloped in a hug.

Small Joys by Elvin James Mensah (pictured right) is one of those rare books, in that whilst it deals with serious and upsetting issues, it manages to be full of light and hope.

We find Harley at a particularly low point, out in the woods, alone and about to do something drastic. This is when Muddy enters his life, introduces himself as Harley’s new flat mate and begins to change his life and outlook.

Harley is a young queer black man, navigating his way through mid noughties Britain. He’s lost, having dropped out of university and is dealing with a fractured family relationship. Muddy is the polar opposite of Harley on paper, an upbeat Mancunian with a love of bird watching, rugby and Oasis. He is completely lovable and impossible to forget (and possibly one of my favourite literary characters of all time).The friendship and bond that develops between these two characters is beautiful and inspiring. They really do save each other.
Filled with excellent pop culture and music references of the time, brilliantly memorable characters, lots of laughs and a few tears, it really did give me everything that I wanted. I feel that Finlay deserves a special mention, initially a bit of an eye roll character but he really grew on me and he was just completely believable, I feel like I’ve met Finlay a few times in my life.
It’s been a couple of months since I read this now and I still find myself thinking about it, Harley and Muddy often. This is a quiet novel with a big impact and I can’t wait to see how the world reacts now that it’s finally been released.

Many issues are covered in this book, including race, sexuality, mental health and suicidal thoughts but all are dealt with delicately and with a tenderness that really sets it apart from other books. Elvin James Mensah is a name that we will be hearing a lot of in the future and I can't wait to hear him discuss his work and writing process at this year's festival.

Small Joys is one of three books featured at our New Voices 2023 event at 12pm on Sat 29 April, Methodist Church. Elvin will be joined by Monica Heisey (really good, actually) and Georgina Moore (The Garnett Girls) and the event will be hosted by Joe Haddow.

You can follow Marc on Instagram @bookmarc_83