Turning the first page on the handsewn binding of Joseph Ridgwell’s Cuba: In Search of Hemingway feels like something special. Like discovering the splintered edges of a treasure chest through sand. Or something you might unexpectedly luck on at the bottom of a box of Cuban cigars, holding it up and being wondrously captivated by it. But that’s all part of the charm. Like other titles of his works you may never find a copy – unless you’re really looking for it, or don’t act fast enough. This is also great for writers of less renown (like myself) who can claim that work isn’t reprinted it’s just rare and more collectable now. That said, there is a genuine collectibility about Ridgwell’s titles and in the case of Cuba; Brighton’s Pig Ear Press went the whole hog into making it something really special. Along with my less weird collections of things, it’s publications like this that can stand alongside stockpiles of vinyl. It also similarly serves as a good argument against those who say that print is dead. I don’t want to get too elitist about it, but this just simply wouldn’t work in the same way as a downloadable file, or if it had been pasted onto a blog.
I’m not sure exactly what a travel writer is. It’s not something that has interested me greatly and haven’t intentionally dabbled in it. But I’ve found that any change of scenery has generally been worthwhile; whether it’s to simply leave you longing for a place later, or glad to have fled from it. It’s these two elements that run deeply through the intoxicated bloodstream of Joseph Ridgwell’s Cuba. If you’ve ever wondered what Bukowski may have sounded like if he’d seen more of the world, this may be the answer. It’s like Bukowski but on holiday. Don’t get me wrong though Ridgwell may have taken a few lessons from the writing school of Bukowski, he isn’t another imitator. His voice in this work runs as strong as any others, like a great story teller from a worn and charismatic East End pub dropping in rhyming slang, cracking jokes while keeping you captivated, as the story unfolds. Although I enjoyed reading A Child of The Jago, as he nostalgically harps back to a London and times sadly disappeared, I think Ridgwell reads best when he’s playing away, getting in trouble on the other side of the planet. Writing it years on, you can almost imagine him smiling, as he jots down the lines from one night in Cuba; a night that starts – as the title suggests with our narrator and his pal Ronnie trying to discover the infamous boozers of Hemingway’s past. It has the outlines of one of those nights you visualize beforehand, thinking you know what to expect but fresh excitement steps in and the bar’s raised until you wake up hungover, to a headache pounding like salsa rhythm and vague memories of places and people. While you’re left pleased and wondering, knowing that it must have been a special one – and since it’s down in print, it clearly was one of those nights for Mister Ridgwell.
With all that said, you may be asking why the fuck I’m taunting you by reviewing a book that you may never actually read? But at the same time that’s why it deserves all the insight it can get. Otherwise treat it as a tip; part with twenty quid and buy one of the remaining copies – if you still can. Not only that but Cuba also comes equipped with a cute little letter-pressed broadside of some of Ridgwell’s Beach Poems. All in all it’s a short and sweet book that packs enough punch to even make old Hem himself step back before he came back at you with fists swinging. This is an essential read for any lit fiend, or a perfect starter kit for anyone even mildly interested in reading the work of a unique, living, literary great.