Vehicle: a verse novel

Jen Calleja

Traven T. Croves (Design) TJ Books (Printer)




ISBN: 9781913513344


Publication date: 8 February 2024



Hester Heller is a traitor.
Hester Heller is a translator.
A muse. A musiker.
Hester Heller is inscrutable, even to herself.

In a time when looking into the past has become a socially unacceptable and illegal act in the Nation, a group of scholars are offered an attractive residency to allow them to pursue their projects. When the residency transpires to be a devastating trick, these Researchers go on the run, and soon discover that their projects all relate to one major event: the Isletese Disaster – the decline and subsequent devastation fifty years earlier of a long-forgotten roaming archipelago called The Islets.

One figure emerges as central to all of their work: Hester Heller, a reformed cult musiker turned student recruited from the Institute for Transmission as an agent of the state and tasked with gathering reconnaissance on the Disaster by using her old band Vehicle as a cover. Heller is the key to the Researchers collective story, which they try to piece together while evading their pursuers.

Compiled from the Researchers’ disparate documentation, recollections, and even their imaginations, Vehicleis a timely and daring exploration of xenophobia, exploitation, the writing of histories and legacies, and the politics of translation.

‘To say that Vehicle is a feminist Pale Fire for the Brexit generation may not be high enough praise for this intoxicating, thrilling and endlessly inventive work.’ – Joanna Walsh

‘A high-stakes speculation, an adventure into a new world order as well as the possibilities of the novel-form,Vehicle is a feat of ungovernable imagination. Bold, bracing, brilliant.’ – Kate Briggs

‘Jen’s work brilliantly surfs the wave of engagement with translation, marginalised and re-assertive cultures within and beyond Europe, necessarily calling out the connection between colonial and patriarchal attitudes and actions in literary culture. Bringing a deliciously non- realist and wittily self-aware tone that is unusual in UK writing, it strikes an important balance that fits with a new wave of writing that is brilliantly romantic and feminist.’ – So Mayer

‘Calleja is an uncompromising and transformative writer. Vehicle is a thrilling exploration of the unexpected yet decisive power that is wielded by all acts and apparatuses of translation, and how these impinge on our shared understanding of other cultures, peoples, and epistemologies – for good and for worse.’ – Denise Rose Hansen


Jen Calleja is a poet, short story writer and essayist who has been widely published, including in The White Review, The London Magazine, and Best British Short Stories (Salt). She was awarded an Authors’ Foundation Grant from the Society of Authors to work on Vehicle, and was shortlisted for the Short Fiction/University of Essex Prize for an excerpt from the novel. She was also longlisted for the Ivan Juritz Prize for Experimentation in Text. Prototype published her short story collection I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For in 2020.

She has been shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, the Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize and the Schlegel-Tieck Prize as a literary translator from German into English and was the inaugural Translator in Residence at the British Library.

Calleja played and toured in the DIY punk bands Sauna Youth, Feature, Monotony, Gold Foil and Mind Jail spanning a period of over a decade as both a drummer and a vocalist.