An absolute knock-out – had me laughing again and again and then feeling very moved at the end. Such a stylish performance: an iron fist in a velvet glove.Chris Cleave
A narrator in retreat from suburban life, a shambolic draughty farmhouse in a scenic valley... A widowed survivalist called Cassandra White... A banker, a village-full of empty second homes, and scores of poor and elderly people with nowhere to go... A crazy utopian scheme to reclaim the valley for the locals.
Come to the Edge is an absolute knock-out. It had me laughing again and again, and then at the end feeling very moved. It's such a stylish performance - an iron fist in a velvet glove - a fast-paced, witty and subversive look at what happens when one woman turns the tables on the bankers. This is Kavenna at her most playful, coupling her elegant style with an infectious sense of fun to paint a timely portrait of the widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots...No reader with a beating heart will finish without thinking 'What if...?'Chris Cleave
Kavenna is HILARIOUS, one of the funniest, and edgiest, writers I've read (and that's saying something.)A M Scanlon
Kavenna writes as if possessed, as if on a mission, as if she had been taken over by her wonderful, impossible, dynamic leading character. There is no stopping Cassandra White. It is a name that spells doom and guarantees entertainment. This is a novel to read at speed, laughing all the way to the edge…What is brilliant is that, just beneath its amusing surface, this novel is serious. It is left to the reader to judge to what degree…This is also a novel that explores the pointlessness of worshipping wealth and the peculiar liberation of physical labour, the moments when the narrator barely knows herself because, almost against her will, she is being sustained by natural beauty – free pleasures. She evolves into a latterday Goldilocks while Cassandra, limbering up for martyrdom, becomes fiercer than the three bears. Joanna Kavenna, meanwhile, has consolidated her reputation as one of the most entertaining, fluent and readable novelists around.Kate Kellaway, Guardian
Joanna Kavenna's very funny and disturbing first novel, Inglorious, examined the unravelling of one young woman as she slipped through the gaps into outer darkness. Her third novel, Come to the Edge, takes the satire up another notch into pure, black comedy…Kavenna's comedy is effortless, brilliant and occasionally savage…Once again, Joanna Kavenna is questioning the invisible rules of modern life and the sheer difficulty of self-determination, and doing it with wit, originality, and style.Kate Saunders, Literary Review
Joanna Kavenna's witty and provocative third novel…brandishes a vision of rural apocalypse, then hurtles through a darkly comical back-story to explain how we got there…By pairing two lavishly flawed characters, Kavenna has confidently invaded the uncertain landscape of Magnus Mills…Come to the Edge delivers richly on the promise of Inglorious, Kavenna's uncomfortably edgy debut novel. A resonance of mental instability thrums throughout as Kavenna probes received notions of justice and equality, property and rights, in this often hilarious and fast-paced tale of rural revolt. Come to the Edge has resolution writ large from the outset, and powers up from its brazen characters' challenge to moral rectitude.James Urquhart, Independent
Oh my aching sides…Laugh? I nearly exploded reading Kavenna's knock-out satire…Val Hennessey, Daily Mail
A timely satire…[The narrator] has a marvellous vocabulary, a literary style steeped in the tropes of modernism and the spirit of an adventurer…Kavenna has a deftness and wit which carry you along at such a pace that you hardly notice the technical feat of her skill in mastering a large cast and a plot full of bizarre turns. And she's very funny, too…The book offers a very original corrective to dinner-party talk of property prices and granite kitchen countertops. As such, it would make a terrific book-group choice. Come to the Edge is playful, inventive, and very much of its time.Cressida Connolly, The Spectator
Kavenna is known for her mordant wit, and here it falls to those on both sides of the class divide – society's radicals and its fat cats - to be satirised … Kavenna captures the absurdities behind social activists with the same panache as she does society's capitalists, but behind the comedy there lies a dark warning of what can happen when social inequalities become just too plainly obvious.Francesca Angelini, Sunday Times
In the distinguished tradition of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca…Kavenna cleverly satirises the badly thought-out projects of these would-be reformers: one a leader, the other a follower. Sharp…well-written and darkly comic.Ruth Scurr, Daily Telegraph
Crazy, surreal, sharp, funny, and ultimately also serious…The growing realisation that the narrator is fixated on finding things out for herself, even if it means putting herself in harm's way, is masterfully managed. The serious point is that private property is a social convention, or at least a set of contracts not impossible to surmount by enough force… A memorable read.We Love This Book
A hilarious, timely satire from award winning Joanna Kavenna, Come to the Edge is an amused/serious take on the impact of second-homers on the countryside's local residents. Perceptive, funny, irreverent and topical, Come to the Edge crackles and sparkles and will have you chuckling on every page.Red Magazine
A darkly funny, playful and elegantly written tale of what happens when the tables are turned on the bankers.'Psychologies
Political this novel certainly is - not only an assault on second home owners, even the sacred National Trust, but on much of our consumerist society … Kavenna has form, winning the Orange award with her first novel, Inglorious, and this book is dedicated to the real Cassandra - a woman I would very much like to meet.Tribune
Imagine a cross between Cold Comfort Farm, Tamara Drewe and a film by Danny (Olympics Opening Ceremony) Boyle, and you'll get a sense of this riotous comic novel….Bowls along with all the wild, unstoppable energy of a full Cumbrian spate.Stephanie Cross, The Lady
This compact novel is a short, sharp shock of a read, darkly funny…It left me wanting to find more works by this author.Country Life
This is Joanna Kavenna's fourth published novel and is certainly a noteworthy addition to her steadily expanding repertoire. Named as one the Telegraph's 20 British writers under 40 to watch in 2010, and the winner of the 2008 Orange New Writers' Prize for her debut The Birth Of Love, Kavenna delivers a brilliantly executed satire that is both sharp and poignant. An addictive read.' –Natsayi Sithole, The Irish Examiner
Kavenna offers a lively, irreverent voice to the growing…sense of unease at the ills of the wealth divide and unchecked capitalismMetro
An unlikely friendship is formed amid a desolate English countryside inhabited by the haves and have-nots in Joanna Kavenna's dark and moving satireStylist
Come to the Edge for me was one of those books that you instantly fall in love with….Here's what you can expect: a quirky, sarcastic and hilarious duo, a most unusual plot and roaring with laughter at 1 a.m when everyone else is sleeping and even though you need to get up for work in 6 hours, you just shrug and keep reading…The novel is about her strange friendship with Cassandra, about the differences between rural and suburban life, between the rich and the poor. Take all these ingredients, add a pinch of sarcasm and 3 tablespoons of humour and you get Joanna Kavenna's masterpiece.www.bookswithacuppatea.co.uk
'My only problem with this story is that I feel like no matter how hard I try, my review won't do it justice…It's a charming, entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny page-turner – a definite must have. And just a tip for commuters: do not read it on your way to work, including trains and the tube. Believe me, you'll be crying with laughter.
The author of Inglorious, The Birth of Love, and The Ice Museum has excelled herself. The book is satirical and as such it might have had a limited readership. But satire, like fiction, is only as good as it is believable. Come to the Edge solicits and engages the reader: it could happen, in fact it should happen, perhaps it did happen, or perhaps it is happening right now, away in the depths of the Home Counties, far from the notice of the Media, (which in any case, is so given up to its B List celebrities, its deep-carpetted halls, and its gameshows that it would barely lift a microscope to anything so unusual). Kavenna's prose is original and powerful enough to convince a cynic. It is superb, divine storytelling…The dialogue in her book is vivid, brisk and telling. The violence is unusual and very imaginative. The sex, though regrettably blasphemous, would probably have made Jesus laugh…www.bookgroupinfo.co.uk
Joanna Kavenna writes as if possessed, as if on a mission, as if she had been taken over by her wonderful, impossible, dynamic leading character. There is no stopping Cassandra White. It is a name that spells doom and guarantees entertainment. This is a novel to read at speed, laughing all the way to the edge. Everyone knows someone a bit like Cassandra, a loner with a talent for growing vegetables, a DIY polemicist with furious personal agendas, a woman who makes up the rules as she goes along.
The narrator's acquisitive suburban life is succinctly and off-puttingly described. The only unpredictable thing about it is her fertility – she has had several unsuccessful IVF attempts. It is after the narrator's husband has left her that she hurtles down the motorway towards Cassandra and the Lake District where she is to be berated, invigorated and worked into the ground. Her duties include the milking of a goat. When she moans that the goat does not like her, Cassandra crisply responds: "She doesn't like anyone. She is a goat." The rural scene has its challenges and yet there is a stealthy conversion to life chez Cassandra. And what follows happens so fast that the reader is taken off guard. Cassandra hatches a plan of defiant criminality in less time than it takes to squeeze a goat's dug. She resolves to move locals into empty, swankily appointed second homes. She dubs the people who own them "second home perverts". How can she do this? Simple – break in.The novel is narrated by another woman who is not even graced with a name but becomes Cassandra's companion-cum-prisoner after answering her advertisement – which sounds tame enough – explaining that a widow needs help with a "sprawling property" in an "idyllic setting".
Kavenna goes to town – or country – on the details of the second homes into which Cassandra breaks. She is particularly good at nailing the exorbitant pretension of their décor. The details are hugely – gigantically – enjoyable: "… everything is grandiose, every table is made to seat a rowdy retinue and every bed is twice king-sized. Emperor-sized. Lord of the universe-sized. Every bed has its own country of sheets, a continent of duvets." Cassandra "resettles" an old, wobbly, tentative couple into a particularly grand house. They unpack their few possessions with gratitude. In striking contrast to the property into which they have moved, they are said to resemble "human lean-tos, smashed by years of storm".
What is brilliant is that, just beneath its amusing surface, this novel is serious. It is left to the reader to judge to what degree. It is not a sermon, manifesto or Cassandra-like rant. At no point does Kavenna do anything as rash as showing her hand. But the hilarity of the book starts to ebb as one is faced with the gulf between the "haves" and "have-nots". It could not be more sickeningly clear: it is a mini state-of-the-nation snapshot.
And yet it is not that simple. For this is also a novel that explores the pointlessness of worshipping wealth and the peculiar liberation of physical labour, the moments when the narrator barely knows herself because, almost against her will, she is being sustained by natural beauty – free pleasures. She evolves into a latterday Goldilocks while Cassandra, limbering up for martyrdom, becomes fiercer than the three bears. Joanna Kavenna, meanwhile, has consolidated her reputation as one of the most entertaining, fluent and readable novelists around.
There's no hesitancy in the opening of Joanna Kavenna's witty and provocative third novel, which brandishes a vision of rural apocalypse, then hurtles through a darkly comical back-story to explain how we got there.
Beautiful, tall, flame-haired Cassandra stands above Cumbria's remote Duddon Valley, armed with her antique blunderbuss, exulting in the house-fires dotting the landscape while ignoring the police helicopter buzzing above.
Aglow with revolutionary zeal, Cassandra cuts an imposing figure against her doubt-filled accomplice. She has arrived at Cassandra's ramshackle but highly organic farm after bailing out of a suburban routine of dreary consumption, office tedium and an adulterous husband.
"Eccentric" doesn't do justice to Cassandra's unorthodoxy. Bread is banned and she eschews all grain as "a hoarder's commodity", linked to the historic rise of armed conflict. As for the wealthy absentee owners of the valley's many second homes, she classes them as "perverts" for their usurpation of the natural order of things.
Kavenna's plot is as simple as it is logical. Cassandra begins to orchestrate the not-so-clandestine resettlement of the rural poor in the abundance of empty, luxurious dwellings. Brimming with doubt, the narrator cravenly admits to being a "parasite" on Cassandra's unyielding sense of outrage and purpose – but quickly falls into step.
By pairing these two lavishly flawed characters, Kavenna has confidently invaded the uncertain landscape of Magnus Mills, whose delicious novellas polarise conviction and doubt in familiar but unsettling landscapes.
Come to the Edge delivers richly on the promise of Inglorious, Kavenna's uncomfortably edgy debut novel. A resonance of mental instability thrums throughout as Kavenna probes received notions of justice and equality, property and rights, in this often hilarious and fast-paced tale of rural revolt. Come to the Edge has resolution writ large from the outset, and powers up from its brazen characters' challenge to moral rectitude.
One moment Cassandra White was telling me I was a useless fool and that I couldn't milk a goat to save my life; the next she was firing shots in the air and saying we had to burn down Beckfoot Cottage.
It's strange how events got out of hand. Certainly Cassandra got out of hand, and that morning we were running up the hill away from the farm, and the wind was wailing and the birds were screeching in the hedges.
The whole place was trembling in the storm, and Cassandra was saying, 'Don't panic, I'm going to fucking blast them to smithereens if they come anywhere near us,' and waving a gun in the air, as if that would help anyone.
'I think you should throw that in the bushes,' I was saying because I was always more of a coward than her.
'Don't be ridiculous, how will I get rid of the bastards without a gun?' she replied, and I suppose I did wonder then how it came to this, how a nice girl from the suburbs like me who never bothered anyone in her life ended up scrambling up a hillside in a howling gale with a gun-toting maniac.
'But they'll shoot at us.' 'So what?' 'Well, so we might die.' We were shouting at each other because the wind was so high-pitched and raving, and all the trees were bending around us.
'Death is not important. You have to think of the bigger picture,' she said. 'Have you still not learned anything at all?'
Really that was unfair, I'd learned a lot. I'd learned how to milk a goat, and how to deal with the physical and spiritual implications of a thunderbox, and how to cultivate a line of marrows. I'd learned that all things being equal then it was best to do whatever Cassandra told me.
Except now I was beginning to wonder if that was really the right policy decision after all and if it wasn't time to reassess the situation.
We were halfway up the hill now, passing the yew trees, and then we vaulted over a stile and I could hear the sheep rustling in the bracken as I landed. The stream was gushing down the hillside. Then Cassandra turned and said – in a tone of childish glee, as if it was Christmas and she had just seen her teetering stack of presents – 'Just look at the valley!' and I turned and saw the valley was burning.
The houses were on fire.
Flames rising, and billowing clouds of smoke merging with the storm sky above.
The mountains obscured by smoke and cloud.
Like beacons, the burning houses were like beacons in the valley below.
'Good, they've set up a roadblock over by the turning to Birker Fell,' said Cassandra – pointing down at a line of lights and the distant sound of horns. Police lights flashing in the misty valley, and sometimes a quick burst of a siren, as if to tell everyone to calm down and stop setting things on fire. It didn't look as if that tactic was really working for them.
Cassandra was staring down at the scene with her eyes reflecting the engulfing pyres beneath. She had her gun clasped tightly to her bosom, nursing it to her, and I thought it was ironic that her husband got blown to pieces in a desert and now she was going to get herself blasted across the fells he called home.
'They're actually doing it,' she said. 'They're finally taking it back.'
'They're not taking it back, they're burning it down,' I said.
'The stone walls will survive. The buildings will endure, the integral buildings. It'll just be all the interior crap which will get burned.'
And it was certainly getting burned, burned in a giant bonfire, a fireworks display of pure rage.
From this rock you have a grand view of the valley, from the high arch of mountains to the west and along the winding, snaking riverbed towards the Wrynose and Hardknott passes. Beyond that – Coniston, the Langdale Valley, the real idyllic tourist trail. For a moment I forgot about Cassandra's whole 'The land is ours' thing and perceived the clear fact that if we didn't get killed we were definitely going to jail. For a moment I felt sick and as if I might faint, but then I heard a dense pile of timber crashing to the ground, some luxury extension collapsing under the heat, and that focused my mind a little. I thought of all those fine furnishings blistered and pocked with flame. I thought of what the valley would look like when the fires died down. Scorched earth. And all those shattered husks of buildings. Piles of ash.
Like the aftermath of a war.
'We have to get to Beckfoot,' said Cassandra, and she turned and started running up the path again, a lanky figure, flame-hair flowing behind her, like a fire spirit, and the valley all liquid with fire beneath her.
I was about to follow her, but I stopped to take another look. And I was gazing down at the flames jagged against the ancient rocks and the thick black clouds and I suddenly thought but how had this happened? Whose idea was it to torch everything if the scheme failed? Who stored the canisters of petrol in the houses? Who handed out the matches?
I remembered Cassandra standing in the garden earlier firing three shots in the air, and I wondered who told them that three shots fired from White Farm would mean Armageddon! BURN EVERYTHING!
Above there was the insect whirr of a helicopter, some police outfit coming in to land.
And now I was hesitating; I was there on the rock not knowing where to turn.
Until I went to live with Cassandra White I'd never lived in the country before. I lived in the suburbs of a provincial town, and I liked it there. Suburbia was my chosen idyll, and I was a devout worshipper of my personal pile of bricks, bricks my husband and I were paying off one by one, until the glorious day we would own them all. And we were blessed and as well as the gleaming bricks we aspired to own we had our polished cars in their garage shrine and our recently reslabbed stone drive to rumble the wheels on . . .
And our happy humming fridge And our flat-pack totems And our garden with one water feature spewing water from a hole in a triangle, the triangle representing the all-encompassing OM or perhaps the sea of time, or theinterconnectedness of all things, and another water feature casting a constant trickle of water over a soothing basket of pebbles. That we shall know the name of eternity . . .
Our CDs and DVDs mounted on the wall
The background whirr of electronics
The halogen bulbs in the kitchen ceiling, each light picking out its own particular spot of mock marble finish
And one day if we were really virtuous and if the Lord poured blessings on our head we hoped we might have . . . oh, how we hoped and how we feared we were not worthy . . . underfloor heating . . . AAAAAA-MEN.
And lo, we had decided to bring a child into this mini-paradise, but the Lord had not so far favoured my womb, and so my life was rich in ovulation sticks and the smell of piss drying on plastic and a calendar with KEY DATES shaded in red and POSSIBLY KEY DATES in green and the rest of the calendar barren and uninteresting, nothing days which I must live through to arrive at my next KEY DATES. And on these rouged-in days I would persuade my husband into mechanical sex, procreative sex, arranging ourselves into the advised positions and twining our limbs together not for pleasure but simply to bang out a child.
Bang bang bang, there was my husband hammering away, trying to forge flesh from my womb and there was the clock ticking above my head, telling me that I was no longer young, better hurry better hurry, and there was my heart pounding in the small hours when I lay awake thinking that I would never have a child.
Ticktocktick, January and the rain falls heavily on the vintage-look windows of our bedroom and wakes me in the small hours.
March and I walk in the garden and sit by the water features and think OM OM OM.
June and I buy a luxury juicer so I will be enriched in fertility.
August and I stand in the bathroom looking at my ovulation sticks lined up for that month, ready to receive the anointing fountain of piss.
October and I turn circles round the garden thinking OM let me conceive OM OM.
December and the year ends and we all begin again . . .
Bang Bang Bang Ticktocktick . . . All that was dull and life-stripping enough, but I
might have carried on with it for years had my husband not pulled the plug. Surely I would have meandered along, in that twilight suburban half-life, but my husband rudely fired off the emergency flares, tugged on his parachute and pressed EJECT.
He did it all one ordinary inoffensive morning in our house when I was waking to the sound of the Today programme, and the light was streaming round the edges of my immaculate white Roman blinds onto the glit- tering shape of the mirror. And my husband was handing me a cup of coffee, which he never did.
'What's this for?' I said, half-asleep.
'I want to tell you something,' he said. My husband was – still is, no doubt – a chinless man. Handsome in a cherubic way, but certainly lacking a chin. Not that I'm anything wondrous to behold either, but now it was me looking up at my husband – his broad face, full cheeks, the hairs in his nostrils and his furry ears and he said, 'You won't like it.'
It's true I didn't like it, though there was something inevitable about the image he advanced – a tall vivacious girl called Lydie, barely twenty-five and glinting with the hard perfection of youth, glinting her perfect pearly teeth at him, and saying, 'Come hither and come hither' – I only imagine this, never having witnessed it, perhaps I'm traducing the sensual splendour of their union, rendering it in trite phrases and warping every- thing through the lens of my fury, and it must have been splendid enough because my husband was telling me that he wanted to leave.
'That's a surprise,' I said. 'I don't know what to say,' he said. 'Is she pregnant?' 'No.'
He was irreproachable in all things, offering me money and other consolations, the iPod, the Mac, the flat-screen TV, all of them to immure me to lonely despair, he clearly thought, and his virtuous pose only slipped once when he said, tactlessly but admittedly with the facts on his side: 'Also, let's face it, I want a child, and I think you and I know things have stalled on that front.' My husband, a kind man, regretted what he said but said it all the same . . .
OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTI I shout as I stand in the garden kicking in the water features, with my feet wet and my face wet with self-pitying tears and OM Bastard OM I shout as I smash the consoling basket of pebbles and snap the little valve and the water stops. The water dries up and then ceases forever. And I am left with nothing but the unpalatable truth.
Truth . . . unheralded visitor to our suburban bang- house smashed the doors open and thrust me into the cold light of day, carrying a backpack and a suitcase with my ego all ripped and torn.
Truth thrust me up the M6 and to this wind-lashed house in the middle of nowhere, with the pipes jangling in the night and the smell of mould and decay thick in the air.
Truth and to be more precise an advert I read one day, an advert which stuck in my head until my husband made his great announcement.
Wanted, companion in rural life. Can be male or female preferably not completely young, but not entirely decrepit either. Widow living alone on farm, needs help with sprawling property and various plans for improvement. Ample room for lodging. No stipend but no expenses – food included, bills paid. Idyllic setting, but hard work required. Apply to Cassandra White . . .
So I applied to Cassandra White.
Fifty Shades of Real
Radio Litopia, July 2012
Interview on Woman's Hour
BBC Radio 4, July 2012
Guardian Books podcast: The pursuit of happiness
Guardian, July 2012
Come To The Edge by Joanna Kavenna
Female First, July 2012
Ideas, Siberian plains, not panicking...and a woman called Cassandra White…
Book Oxygen, June 2012
Interview on Start the Week
BBC Radio 4, April 2012
Buy Come to the Edge from Amazon.co.uk.
©2015 Joanna Kavenna