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5.0 out of 5 starsPowerful novel
Reviewed in the United States on August 29, 2018
This novel takes place over 48 hours in the lives of three young men living in or very near the projects (i.e. estates) of London. It’s a hard, gritty, and unforgiving environment with little hope for escape. The boys’ fathers are absentee, dead, or severely handicapped, and except for the case of Arden, the mothers are mostly off-scene as well. Keeping with the trend these days, the story is told in alternating perspectives, shifting between characters at a fast clip—just a handful of pages for each character’s perspective before the perspective switches again. The estate dialect takes a bit of getting used to, but I didn’t have any trouble after the first few sections. There’s plenty of page-turning momentum and dramatic events to drive the plot, and I appreciated the unique perspectives (maybe more unique for American readers). The events in the book are plenty bleak, some may even say too bleak. I was wishing for a touch more humor or lightness, but the story was powerful and affecting. I wouldn’t be surprised if this novel makes it onto the Booker Prize shortlist (it’s on the longlist now). Some are even predicting it will win the Prize. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far yet without reading more of the other longlisted titles, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if it won. It’s certainly a worthy contender and one of the best books I’ve read this year.
3.0 out of 5 starsGripping, depressing, ultimately unsatisfying
Reviewed in the United States on January 5, 2019
A skillful, gripping, but ultimately disappointing (I hate to be a spoiler, but there is no outcome in the plot to spoil) and very depressing first-person account of the lives of first generation immigrants (West Indian, Irish, Muslim) and their parents over a couple of days in a high-rise London estate. I have to own up that I read it partly because of my interest in Montserrat, and the mention of Montserrat patois by another review - the West Indian family are two Montserratians and their London-born son . . . but it is very puzzling as to why the author decided that his West Indian characters should come from Montserrat, because their speech and inner monologue shows not the slightest shred of Montserratian speech, and his few references to Montserrat are laughably inaccurate ("I was off to old Britain and saying goodbyes by the Plymouth station"; "Sat in a cab rumbling along Bone Hill . . . The road from Plymouth dock into town was long and loving, smelling all the way of mud and wet grass . . . I make it out in the distance, Maisie mother's roof by the lighthouse, next to the pier where the fishing boat was moored"). This is a vanishingly trivial gripe in the context of the novel as a whole, but still a puzzle - why choose to be specific about something you don't need to be specific about, when you get it wrong? Despite its depressing picture, I enjoyed the book and did not want to put it down, wanting to see what would happen next . . . until the last few pages, when it became apparent that nothing much would be concluded or resolved at all.
2.0 out of 5 starsI really did not enjoy this book
Reviewed in the United States on October 4, 2018
I really did not enjoy this book. Perhaps "enjoy" is the wrong word because it is a very sad story of life in the "estates" around London (sort of analogous to our projects). I read it awhile ago and I don't really believe in spoilers, any way, but I found it very chaotic to read (perhaps that was purposeful) and, frankly, I found the multitude of characters very hard to keep straight. The different parts of the story were told in good sized chunks and there was much switching and changing among them, although they had little to do with one another. Just not my kind of book.
My initial reactions to this book were “what do these words mean” and “what is going on”? The first question was because the narrative is written from the perspective of half a dozen very different characters of which four are teenagers from inner London, whose everyday language is very much of the street. During the early chapters I found urban dictionary very handy but as the book progressed I became more comfortable with the terms.
My second question was because I could not easily fit together the characters although I felt confident that the author would bring them together in time. This he did but I was then left with concerns over the timelines as I could not reconcile the generational gaps.
However, even if you share my concerns please persist with reading the book. It will be worth it.
All the characters are either first or second generation immigrants living on an inner-London estate and Guy Gunaratne explores in depth many of the challenges they face as they cope as best as they can with living in a densely populated area with a mixture of races and backgrounds. In the Acknowledgements section he uses the apt term “survival”.
In Our Mad and Furious City is written in a gritty, uncompromising style. It is sombre most of the time, bordering on depressing, eased by a little humour and some guarded companionship between the boys.
As I said above Gunaratne concentrates on the lives of immigrant families and what might be referred to as “native British” people are restricted to the police and some racist mobsters. Whilst he is right to highlight the challenges of immigrant families, I believe that most of the issues covered are shared by all relatively poor people in our inner cities. In particular I am thinking of the struggle to make a living on basic wages, coping with inadequate, cramped accommodation, prejudice and bigotry.
You will probably find In Our Mad and Furious City hard to read, hard to follow and short of pleasure. You will also find it impossible to ignore, hence my award of four stars.
Book Reviewed on Whispering Stories Book Blog *I received a free copy of this book, which I voluntarily reviewed
For the first 10 pages or so I thought I was going to hate this book. Much of it written in "rap" vernacular, I almost wanted a glossary to tell me what some of the words and phrases meant - even my young relatives couldn't enlighten me. However, once I had "met" all the characters - half a dozen or so main protagonists - their story started to link together and make sense. The action takes place across the time frame of two days, albeit with flashbacks to explain the characters' situations, and it describes a world that is geographically close to many people, especially Londoners, but a world away from my experience and that of the majority of readers I suspect. A tough, multicultural world of hardships and clashing cultures - not a comfortable or easy place to be - but you warm to the feelings and emotions and want to finish the story. Sometimes disturbing and challenging but with humorous and moving moments, the climax is both expected and unexpected. In the end I found this a very interesting and worthwhile book - a terrific book for a book club, with loads to discuss.
4.0 out of 5 starsPowerful, if uncomfortable, novel
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 28, 2019
Guy Gunaratne's In Our Mad And Furious City is set on a north London estate where a white soldier has just been murdered in the street by a black Muslim youth - there are obvious echoes of the Lee Rigby murder. The summer air is thick with tension and unease, with far-right protesters targeting the estate and the nearby mosque becoming increasingly radical.
Against this backdrop, three teenage boys are trying make sense of their place in the city and what their futures might be. Selvon wants to escape to university and knows that his sporting prowess might be as much of a way in as his academic ability. Ardan, who has a difficult home life with a depressed, alcoholic mother, is devoted to his beloved dog and hopes to make grime music into his escape route. Finally, there's Yusuf, grieving for his late father and increasingly uneasy with the hardline theological stance taken by the man who has replaced him as the imam of the local mosque. Their friendship is casual - they all go to the same school and they play football with the other estate kids - but they're loyal to one another in their own ways and there's more that unites than divides them. Most notably, they're all attuned to the gritty tension of the Stones estate, and feel, to an extent, trapped by it. Selvon, who in fact lives just off it 'in a proper house with a proper fam', guides us as he takes his regular running route through its streets and precincts, hemmed in by concrete tower blocks and betting shops as he shows us the areas where 'man only come for barber's, canned food or like batteries, ennet'.
The voices of all three boys are full of the slang and dialect of working class London teenagers, which transcends race and is reflected in the lyrics of the grime artists worshipped by Ardan. Although I think this is effectively done, it does mean that there aren't always enough differences between the three of them to make them feel as distinct from one another as I'd have liked. That said, their descriptions of their environment and the people in it are vibrant and almost poetic, and they bring the estate to life so remarkably well that we feel as if we know it.
In addition to the three boys, we also hear from two older residents, both immigrants - Caroline, sent to London from West Belfast in the 70s when the Troubles had a devastating and brutalising impact on her family, and Nelson, who came to London from Montserrat in the days of teddy boys, Notting Hill race riots and the resurgence of Oswald Moseley. Their perspectives on previous episodes of urban unrest are interesting, but in some ways feel like part of a different novel - or perhaps should be novels in their own right, as I didn't feel this one really does them justice.
One of things Gunaratne does best in this book is to convey a sense of ominousness throughout, constantly simmering and threatening to boil over. Even the very architecture seems threatening. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that when things do reach breaking point, it feels almost inevitable rather than shocking.
There were times when I felt it misfired slightly, and I felt that perhaps a little more resolution of certain plot elements would have made it stronger overall. However, this is a powerful read, if at times an uncomfortable one.
5.0 out of 5 starsVibrant voices of urban life in modern Britain
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 12, 2019
There’s an insistent pull to the rhythm of its opening pages that drew me into Guy Gunaratne’s debut In Our Mad and Furious City, a novel which gives voice to “London’s scowling youth” and “those of us who had an elsewhere in our blood.” Guy Gunaratne’s characters may inhabit an urban landscape bordering on one familiar to me from having lived in north London but their experience of the city is worlds apart from my own. As one of his narrators says early on in the book: “Most others only knew us from the noise we made at the back of the bus.”
Language flexes and evolves for the voices we hear. Selvon, Ardan and brothers Yusuf and Irfan, a loose alliance of friends from school all share a street language: “our words clipped and surging with our own code… Our friendships we called bloods and our homes we called our Ends.” The language used is telling, yet it also has a beat and musicality of its own, something akin to the grime music Ardan writes. Speaking in a register that borrows words and expressions from their multilingual community, the language of the second generation ‘youngers’ contrasts with that spoken by the older first generation narrators. Their language is still that of the home they left behind: Nelson from the Caribbean island of Montserrat speaks patois while Caroline is unmistakably from Belfast.
The rising tension in the novel mostly stems from events which happen off-the-page – the book opens just after the soldier’s murder, riots take place at the end of their street – but you can see it impacting upon the characters’ lives over the 48-hour time period of the novel. It’s frightening how recognisable the events are, mirroring real-life ones, yet written in a way which puts them in a whole new perspective. The book came out just as the Windrush scandal was unfolding and parts of Nelson’s story gave me goosebumps as I read it. It’s interesting and not a little depressing to see events in the novel through the prism of history, with the repeated rhetoric, mistakes and attacks, as told though the older characters’ recollections of living through the Troubles in Belfast or of being “some wretch who was too island-soft for this place to begin with” and found himself increasingly pressured into protesting and rioting.
What makes this novel so extraordinarily vibrant are the voices of those whose stories are told and the language which Guy Gunaratne uses. Fierce, urgent and passionate, In Our Mad and Furious City demands your attention for this is the language of survivors and there is both beauty and hope in that.
A deeply moving , wonderfully written account of a group of interracial friends on a London sink estate, each voice variously of hope, despair, disappointment, regret, ambition and fear. This is a desperately sad book, these young immigrants are victims of an insidiously cruel system which has marginalised them and against which they are at such a disadvantage. A novel to make Englad ashamed.
In Our Mad and Furious City is an incredibly accomplished debut. Set on a London estate of four tower blocks, the action takes place over a couple of days, just after a soldier has been killed in a horrific terrorist attack. There story is told from the point of view of three friends - three young men, all British-born children of immigrants from different backgrounds. Jusuf's family hail from Pakistan and his father used to be the Iman at the local mosque. Ardan's mother came over from Ireland, while off-estate Selvon's West Indian parents moved from Montserrat to make their home in London. The boys just want to play football, chase girls & do their thing - Selvon is constantly training and can be seen running around the estate. Ardan is a wannabe rapper but he lacks confidence to perform to anyone but his dog. Yusuf is worried about his brother Irfan who seems to be falling under the influence of the increasingly radical new Iman who succeeded their father. But they cannot escape the increasing tension following the attack and the constant undercurrent of violence that is bubbling up in the streets. Each has a unique and truly authentic voice and world view. The language and slang of the streets is both convincing and literary, bringing them vividly to life. Two other main characters have a voice too: Caroline, Ardan's mother and Nelson, Selvon's father. Both have their own experiences of violence; when Nelson first came to Britain he was caught up in the racial tensions of the fifties with the keep Britain white movement at its peak whereas Caroline fled the Troubles in Ireland in the seventies. These older voices with their parallel echoes of hatred and distrust serve to make the cyclical nature of the violence feel inevitable as the novel hurtles to it's conclusion. It's a raw and convincing portrait of life in a modern multicultural city. Gritty and tender, it's totally absorbing.