This is a striking and thought-provoking debut that took me by surprise. There are a number of things that set it apart from your average coming-of-age novel (a label which in itself a bit misleading). For one, you have the backdrop, which starts out in working class Scotland in the lead-up to the year 2000, but also takes in post-millenium London, Paris, and Athens, among a variety of social milieus. In that way the novel is as much a picaresque as a Bildungsroman. On top of that, though, there are the political undertones - always present but never domineering. From the microcosm of the work environment at Benny's Burgers (hilariously modeled on McDonald's) to the wider realm of political protest, Johnston examines the nature of individuality, group mentality, and society itself. This is all done in an entertaining way, taking in the lives and loves of Johnston's narrator Wayne and his crowd of friends. Along the way, alliances shift, friends fall out, hearts are broken, battles are waged, and death comes knocking. For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the novel is the contrast between the gritty dialogue (a blend of international accents and dialects) and Wayne's more elegant (and elegiac) descriptions of the world of his youth. A wounded protestor sprays `a speech-bubble of blood around every syllable,' and in a snowstorm the flakes `swirl up and down, as if searching for a place to land.' In this way the author skillfully brings his story and characters to life, so that we feel for them despite their flaws. It is not a happy-ever-after tale, but it's one that rings of real experience and emotional truth. It hits hard and leaves a melancholy aftertaste - like a stiff shot of Scotch with a lager chaser.