Book Review

Review – Surge by Jay Bernard


Jay Bernard’s extraordinary debut is a fearless exploration of the New Cross Fire of 1981, a house fire at a birthday party in which thirteen young black people were killed. 

Dubbed the ‘New Cross Massacre’, the fire was initially believed to be a racist attack, and the indifference with which the tragedy was met by the state triggered a new era of race relations in Britain.

Tracing a line from New Cross to the ‘towers of blood’ of the Grenfell fire, this urgent collection speaks with, in and of the voices of the past, brought back by the incantation of dancehall rhythms and the music of Jamaican patois, to form a living presence in the absence of justice. 

A ground-breaking work of excavation, memory and activism – both political and personal, witness and documentary – Surge shines a much-needed light on an unacknowledged chapter in British history, one that powerfully resonates in our present moment.

My Review:

“my voice it was weak,

so sickened, so grieved-

my voice became glass

breaking in heat

I called

and no-one seems to call with me

no-one seemed to know or see

what I had seen-

I was so sickened and so grieved.”

Surge by Jay Bernard was the first book I read in the shortlist for the Young Writer Award of the Year 2020. Wow… in just under 60 pages, this poetry collection has reduced me to tears. I am not sure if I could find the right words to sum up my review for this book.

Surge is an extremely affecting, highly innovative and utterly haunting take on the New Cross Fire of 1981 where 13 young black people were killed. Growing up in China this was the first time I read about this incident and my heart sank so badly for what had happened. Tracing a line from the New Cross Fire to the Grenfell Fire, Jay Bernard has presented us with the inhuman similarities of both incidents through his passionate and intimate poems. There was one section of the poetry about “seeing the father”, I was so heart-broken that I needed to take a break from this book.

Brutal and raw but with lots of humanities, Surge is an extraordinary debut for Jay Bernard and I am so glad it is one of the books in the shortlist this year!

Have you read it? If not, I highly recommend it. This is such an uniquely structure poetry so don’t rush it, take your time to reread the verses to make sure you fully get the message. I am sure you will love it.

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