There is plenty of thematic variety here, in any case. In “Tooth”, she wittily turns her gift for clarity on the all-conquering agony of toothache: “Ed shifts and turns against me, / skin like cotton, outside the pain, / and says through sleep – / his clean sound mouth – / Honey, are you still sore? // I can’t answer / round the cobblestone, / the ship, the choke, the pliers”. “Melr” is a limpid coming- of-age sequence set against the backdrop of the Irish Sea: there is an “oil rig balanced / like a waterboatman on the meniscus” in childhood vision, then, later, teenage evenings of “hollering and bass thump // and the sound of seething water”. The lithe “Dappled Things”, about the birth of two nephews, is a note on growing beyond “orchid skin … settling / as the blood learned more, as they became solid” to “the dark / plumage – its graduation robe or city suit”, and ends in unknowing aposiopesis. This is a startling debut collection: crisp and controlled, ceaselessly inquisitive, and often moving and empathetic.
It is a fascinating account of a period when it was more an overgrown village than a global city (or even a national capital)... Naismith manages to weave together a very effective account of London’s political and economic development... It is a tall order to cover six of the most obscure centuries in London’s history and not leave readers dizzy and unsatisfied. In conjuring a fine sense of the topography of those Saxon streets, the lives of their inhabitants and the machinations of their rulers, Naismith has more than fulfilled his initial aspiration.
...Naismith was something of a wunderkind... Now an established academic at King’s College London, he has an almost unmatched knowledge of how early English money worked... This particular skill is married to an expert understanding of the disparate archaeology and texts of the period — essential disciplines for grappling with the oddities of medieval England... Naismith’s service to old London is heroic. In carefully sorting and untangling its post-Roman rebirth he allows a crucial phase in its long life to take its rightful place in the annals of the great and monstrous city.