Things We Nearly Knew


Susan Osborne, A Life in Books, 10 January 2018
There’s nothing like getting your reading year off to a good start. Jim Powell’s Things We Nearly Knew continues 2018’s satisfying trend for me with its slice of American smalltown life seen through the eyes of an unnamed bartender. I’d enjoyed Powell’s second novel, Trading Futures… His new novel is infused with a gentler humour, the themes it tackles much weightier and all the better for it… Powell’s characterisation is intelligent and perceptive, his writing more striking that I remembered it… A thoroughly enjoyable piece of storytelling, well turned out in every sense. If the rest of 2018’s reading is as good as this I’ll be delighted.  [read more]

Anthony Cummins, Daily Mail, 5 January 2018
If you didn’t know Jim Powell was British, you wouldn’t guess from this hard-boiled slice of Americana, narrated by the middle-aged owner of a Nowheresville bar.At the start, he and his wife of 30 years are speculating about Arlene, a new regular who sets eyes twinkling and tongues wagging as she asks around for a man named Jack, letting nothing slip about why. … Powell’s previous novel, Trading Futures, described a City trader’s meltdown; this book, ostensibly a change of tack, ultimately turns on a similar theme of mid-life unspooling. If it overcooks – just a bit – it makes up for it with a wry charm that grips you right to the sombre finish.  [read more]

Ian Shine, Financial Times, 3 February 2018
“Things that never happened become as much facts as things that did,” says one of the cast of mystery-shrouded characters in Jim Powell’s engrossing third novel. Narrated by a bartender who sounds like a middle-aged Holden Caulfield, it is set mostly in his bar in a nondescript US town where rumour rather than rum proves intoxicating. Arlene arrives from nowhere one day looking for someone called Jack; ne’er-do-well Franky reappears after a long absence; Marcie, the narrator’s wife, has a grudge against Franky. The tales they weave about each other tie the reader in knots, and Powell enjoys pulling the bind tighter. “I know you want the loose ends tied up, but life’s a muddle.” Indeed.

Jackie Law, Bookmunch, 5 February 2018
Things We Nearly Knew explores the lives of the regular clientele at a bar in a small town in America. The narrator and his wife own and run the establishment. Over time the regulars come and go, people move on, circumstances change. The story told here is set over a nine month period which saw the arrival and departure of one such drinker. There are glimpses of personal histories, teased out by the casual interest of the curious alongside a reluctance to fully engage. The middle aged are survivors of their past – there will always be elements they would prefer not to have to share. This is made harder when others talk freely of events, when they were also there. The writing is concise with an almost abrasive view of human interactions. There is a distancing from emotion, a numbing of the senses. The mysteries are solved with an outlook of stoicism for the pain life brings, and leaves in its wake. This is a compelling read but a somewhat bleak perspective. [read more]

Leaf Arbuthnot, Sunday Times, 31 December 2017
British writer Jim Powell’s accessible third novel plays out in a scrubby bar on the edge of a middling American town whose residents’ main hobbies are gossip and boozing… While the plot is expertly spun out, characters lapse too readily into cliché. It is an engrossing read but not a particularly nutritious one.  [read more]