Made in Britain by Gavin James Bower

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Made in Britain by Gavin James Bower

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 2/5
Reviewer: Andy Lancaster
Reviewed by Andy Lancaster
Summary: Novels about the British underclass, and particularly the youth of that class, abound, and some both take us convincingly into the realities of this existence and reveal to us real humanity beneath the conditions and environment. Unfortunately 'Made in Britain' does neither, but merely manages to create a depressingly predictable image of life in 'Every Town'.
Buy? No Borrow? No
Pages: 196 Date: September 2011
Publisher: Quartet Books
ISBN: 978-0704372290

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The settings of the intertwined tales of Russell, the working class swot trapped by his conditions, Charlie, the heroic 'lad' who gets caught in the drugs scene and Hayley the naïve wannabee with a single parent father are the school rooms and backstreets, flats, pubs and clubs of Every Town, the vision of twenty-first century deprivation that Bower conjures. Or rather fails to conjure, for the device of making the 16 year olds tell the story from their own first person narrative deprives the reader of a genuine sense of the physical reality in which this story unfolds.

It is an understandable choice, as it allows him to twist and link and separate the different narratives and that is one of the real strengths of the book, those neat points of connection and collision of the characters which for the most part don't feel like contrivance. And it does mean that we have differing perceptions of the same events, moments of genuine misunderstanding and confusion in the minds of these young people, where we can understand the whole from the readers' position.

But what it gains in plot device and narrative drive, it sacrifices in terms of depth. For we are trapped in the characters' world of cliché and naivety, of foolish ambition and limited understanding. This structure deprives us of anything but their limited vision, which with all the will in the world completely lacks any understanding of the adults, of the larger realities. And the scope of the novel is such that they really don't have time to grow and change. In less than two hundred pages this is not a novel of revelation, or even the loss of innocence.

Of course Bower's main point is the entrapment of these youngsters, and the circumstances which hold them so the only hope the novel can offer is fleeing the environment which stunts their life-chances. But the personal and emotional situations are so deliberately constructed, the single parent, the wife-beater, the Asian drug dealers and the lecherous teacher, that there is a grinding predictability about the whole. It is the kind of world view that perhaps some sixteen year olds might have of deprivation, but this is a novel which purports to 'cut through the hype', rather than reproduce the stereotype. In all of this, I feel that Bower is genuinely trying to do more than create a potboiler with a bit of sex, drugs and GCSEs to enliven the mix. There is earnestness about this, an anger at the conditions which trap these young people, and at the lack of support they have from almost all the adults in their lives which leaves them washed backwards and forwards in a mixture of fear, innocence and ignorance. But as the adults are mere ciphers, seen only through the sixteen year old eyes, again Bower fails to make us genuinely angry – the children's' vision of the adults is too one-dimensional for that.

I can't honestly recommend the investment of time in reading this novel, certainly when compared with writers such as Zadie Smith or novels such as The Dirty South by Alex Wheatle which have more wit and insight while still exploring the same themes.

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