A well structured and captivating read
Selvon lives with his mother and ailing father off the estate. He is accepted as he regularly hangs out there with his friends. Focused on his training – regular runs and visits to the gym – he is biding his time before escaping to university. His father, Nelson, came to London from the Caribbean in the late 1950s. Nelson taught his son to be disciplined, to focus on self-direction and not get swayed by the wrong crowd.
Ardan lives with his mother, Caroline, who was sent to London by her family in Belfast when she was seventeen. Ardan focuses on his music, Grime, recording creations but keeping them to himself. Caroline fights her own demons, drowning them in drink.
Yusof also lives with his mother but their family is more recently troubled. His father was Imam at the local mosque before he died in a car accident. His brother, Irfan, has since brought shame down on the family. The new Imam has radical ideas and was granted power over the boys by their grieving mother. This Imam and his ardent followers, including former schoolboy bullies, are determined to rein Yusof and Irfan in.
The story is written over just a few days and focuses on the male population. I found the supporting roles granted the women unsatisfactory – where was their strength of character and influence? Given the power of the narrative this remains a minor irritation.
The young residents of the multicultural area are portrayed going about their lives. These are shadowed by circumstances not of their making – they deal as best they can with the world they have been given. When hate filled actions encroach there is fear and anger, a powerlessness in the face of demands from a fracturing community often at odds with personal desires.
The writing adopts a local vernacular that took some time to engage with. It is not difficult to read but I am still unsure what some phrases mean – how does one ‘Kiss my teeth’? What comes across though are lives that are beyond my experience. The portrayal appears searingly authentic.
Having recently read The Study Circle I could empathise to a degree with the Muslim strand of the story. Caroline’s background was familiar . In offering three young friends, raised in the same place but by parents from differing backgrounds, the challenges of lazy attitudes to skin colour and poverty can be explored and contrasted. We need more voices like this in our literature if we are to to better understand the weight of limitations imposed on those raised in such communities. There may be a few who get away but what of those who remain?
This is a dark tale posing questions not easily answered but which, for the good of all, need to be more widely considered.
Vernon finds solace in books
Take Nothing With You, by Patrick Gale, tells the story of a teenage boy growing up in Weston-super-Mare, England. Eustace lives with his parents in a large property they run as an old people’s home, those in their care including two of Eustace’s grandparents. As an only child who does not enjoy sport he feels a misfit amongst his peers at school. He has one good friend, Vernon, whose home life is also unusual. Eustace discovers his passion is music. Many of the characters introduced are artists of various disciplines.
The boys attend a fee paying school despite the fact Eustace’s family are not particularly wealthy. As Eustace approaches puberty he realises that he is attracted to boys more than girls.