Tulloch continues his brilliant melding of Alan Silitoe and Roddy Doyle in this, his second novel, once again mixing humor, despair, anger, and hope in a unabashedly social novel that tugs the heartstrings until they come close to breaking the heart. Set in the same Gateshead ghetto as The Season Ticket, and written in the same lyrical dialect (which does for Geordie what James Kelman and Irvine Welsh have done for Scots), the story concerns the relationship between a difficult six-year-old boy and his grandfather.
The boy is Sonny Gee, born to a drug-addicted mother who can't protect him from Macca, her current drug-dealer boyfriend, who uses the kid as a mule. Sonny Gee (aka "Bonny Lad"), is clever, insolent, hilariously rude, wild, streetwise to an alarming degree, but underneath it all, still posses the glow of innocence. When he mother can't deal with him, he's sent off to stay with one of an informal group of neighborhood women who desperately try to raise the unwanted children of the ghetto. One day, when all the usual spots are full up, his mother has only option left, dump him with her father, who she hasn't seen in over a decade.
The grandfather is a misanthrope, who waits for death in his tiny house, his body deteriorating from a lifetime in the coal mines. When the bonny lad is thrust upon him, he is a bitter and unwilling recipient. The bulk of the book then consists of the duo feeling out a relationship, with all manner of "odd couple" disturbances and disruptions. There are a number of subplots built in, such as the slow revelation of why the grandfather and daughter are estranged, and Macca's desire to use the bonny lad as a mule again. But the dominant question is what the old man is going to do with this wild boy and whether, through him, he can find hope and meaning at the end of a lifetime of suffering. The answer is stirring, and triumphant.
The book is rife with refreshingly unveiled social commentary, ranging from the end of mining, to the government's abandonment of workers, and of course the general decline in community values and behavior. These are mostly delivered through the grandfather's lips with all the bitterness Tulloch can summon to the page. And if anyone thinks the portrayal of Gateshead is overwrought, read Danziger's Britain, and prepare to be depressed about the state of modern Britain. For fans of The Season Ticket, several characters from that make appearances here, including the aforementioned Macca, as well as Gemma, Rusty, and even Sewell.