Hot Stew

Fiona Mozley. Algonquin, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-64375-155-9
Mozley leaves the Yorkshire countryside of her Booker-shortlisted Elmet for the gritty streets of London in this lively contemporary Dickensian outing set in a Soho brothel. Wealthy, ruthless developer Agatha has her gaze fixed on the Aphra Behn, an apartment building inhabited largely by sex workers. Among them are Precious and Tabitha, who organize the other women to weigh their options after they’re slapped by Agatha with an exorbitant rent hike; eventually, they go to the press. Meanwhile, a policewoman is dubiously assigned to investigate sex trafficking at the Aphra Behn by her commanding officer, manipulated by Agatha after a tête-à-tête. Of greater concern to the author than the fate of the building and its residents, though, are the social problems of poverty, addiction, and rising gentrification, which she roundly illustrates through depictions of the myriad men who frequent the brothel (among them an aspiring actor who plays a pimp in a stage play), and the neighborhood’s homeless population and crew of drug addicts. Unfortunately, the main characters are often flatly reported and fail to leave a deep impression (on Precious: “For her, it is just a job. She does it for the money. She doesn’t much like it or enjoy it but she didn’t much enjoy her previous employment either”). Still, Mozley’s ambition and vision make this a worthy effort. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 02/05/2021
Release date: 04/01/2021
Genre: Fiction
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