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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning must read (aka 'proper mint like'), 19 May 2012
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This review is from: Pig Iron (Paperback)
In Pig Iron, Ben has managed the tricky task of weaving some incredibly tricky and often shocking themes into a beautifully poetic narrative.

I'm sure each reader will make their own minds up about the characters, but there is a theme that runs through each of the interconnecting stories; one of earthiness, 'belonging', and ultimately escape and freedom. I read this cover to cover in two sittings, it's gripping, pacy, and often surprising. I was drawn into the characters and cared about them. The use of Durham vernacular and location is, I think, pretty unique, and comes from a place (I feel) of genuine warmth You can feel it in a way that I've never encountered before in writings about the North East.

Make a good film, I reckon.

I've given it five stars because I think it's the second book I've ever read that I'm still thinking about. It's stunning. My conclusion is somewhat scientific - Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Read it, you might see what I mean. In fact, I implore you to read it. If you buy anything before this book, I am going to sneak round in the night and replace it with Pig Iron.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read this book, you won't regret it!, 9 May 2012
This review is from: Pig Iron (Paperback)
WOW!

First off the cover of this book was the hell of a shock after what I read about the book. Now that I've read the book, the cover makes sense! Wooooo!

So, on with the rest of it.

The whole novel is written from two perspectives. That of John-John and Vancy. John-John's is written as first person where as Vancy's seem to be written as letters to John-John or even a diary addressed to him. This is really enjoyable as two very different lives are described and two very different perspectives on life are. Both use language/spelling/phrases/words to denote dialect and place etc. I am really enjoying this writing technique at the moment and actually miss it when I think about it not appearing in books I'm reading.

I loved John-John. He endeared himself to me extremely quickly. I felt sorry for him, happy for him and about a million other things for him all at the same time. He is so old fashioned, it is so lovely! All the poor lad wants is a life where he can be happy. He seems to want the traveller life but without the stigma of being a Wisdom attached to it. Vancy has the traveller life but seems to hate it and want to be free of it. All I wanted was to be able to give them both what they wanted! Mac is evil and I really hate him. He is a horrid, disgusting and despicable human being. I feel indifferent about Maria. I don't really know how I'm meant to feel about her.

There are some heavy issues looked at and examined in the book. Racism, domestic violence, abuse etc. They are dealt with very candidly yet they do not seem gratuitous. Things are not dealt with in a vulgar or brash way but that doesn't make the events any less upsetting or hard hitting. However, some aspects of the racism don't give us Welshies a good rep!! Boooooo!!!! :-p

I warn you that there is a large portion of violence thrown in along with the racism and abuse etc, however, don't let this put you off the book. It is fantastic!

Short review I'm sorry to say but I don't want to give too much away!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars My big fat excellent gypsy novel, 2 Feb. 2013
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This review is from: Pig Iron (Paperback)
'Pig Iron' was recommended in The Guardian Readers' Choices 2012 (usually far more reliable as a source of good, interesting fiction than the critics/authors version). I'd not heard of it, or Ben Myers. Sorry Ben. But being a big fan of earthy British novels, with swearin, drugs, fightin n'that, I purchased.
The book is set in the area around Durham. The main drive of the narrative - a man trying to re-make his life after being released from prison - is hardly original. But Myers' central character, twenty-year-old, runtish, big-eared gypsy John-John Wisdom, is engaging and compelling enough for this not to matter. He's at odds with the world - teetotal, a virgin, troubled, put upon, though a man who will obviously stand his ground. He gets his highs from Nature, not tack or billy. He's read books (revealingly, 'Robinson Crusoe' is his favourite; he has himself been cast away from family and gypsy society). John-John's is one of two narrative voices; his is present tense, full of north-east vernacular, naïve; with warm and witty observations. It reads tremendously well. The other, the recollections of his mother Vancy, is at times implausibly poetic, and she is puzzlingly able to relate in great detail events at which she has not been present. Has she got a crystal ball or some Tetley leaves in that caravan of hers?
John-John's late father Mac is the beast who rampages through the novel. A champion bare-knuckle fighter, boozehound, and all round bad egg, his unwholesome shadow darkens John-John's life. Again, brutish fathers are not the most original characters in fiction, and attempts to escape their influence not the most original theme...but still, the vivid, vibrant way Myers dramatizes the gypsy world, its characters, customs and restless spirit carries us along. (As a kid I lived near the desolate, scary caravan site in Luton that the Wisdoms spend some time on...as Vancy says, a real midden-heap.)
Having served his five years for an unidentified though easily guessable crime, John-John takes a job selling ice-cream from a van (not sure how or where he's learned to drive, though), and it's when punting Magnums on The Nook, a local sink estate, that he meets Maria. She is sixteen, but not, unfortunately, very sweet. John-John becomes involved with her and it is then that his plans to make a fresh start and throw off the violence of the past begin to crumble like a 99 flake. The Nazi-loving racists he encounters are standard writer's handbook hate figures and the end slightly anti-climactic, but at a time when Sheila Heti's vacuous, self-referential navel-gazing is getting so many column inches, `Pig Iron', a strongly felt and imagined novel about real people with real issues (and at 285 pages, not that fat), is hugely welcome.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a compelling read, 13 Jun. 2012
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This review is from: Pig Iron (Paperback)
It's not often that I feel compelled to write a review of anything, however this book is just one of THOSE books, you know the kind, the book that stays with you long after you have completed reading, in fact part of me didn't even want to get to the end, I had become so engrossed in the character of John-John that I just wanted his story to continue with me for another few weeks.

I completed this book in 3 sittings, it was just too good to put down, the only other book that has gripped and stayed with me was The Road - for quality, compelling, dark and brutal yet poetic fiction I find them both on a par - yes the story that Ben weaves in the double narrative is that good.

I'm not going to detail any of the storyline here, other reviewers have done that already, just do yourself a favour and read it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, 7 July 2012
This review is from: Pig Iron (Paperback)
Taken from my full review, available here: [...]

Coming strong from his last book, Richard:A Novel, Ben Myers has come up with a brand-new story, dealing with identity, consequences, racism and modernity, from the eyes of an ice-cream man.

Ben Myers' new novel, Pig Iron, is set in County Durham, but no timeframe is given- it could really be set anywhere between the 1970s and some time last week. And rightly so- the protagonist, John-John Wisdom speaks fluently in strong North-Eastern English vernacular and dialect, often using terms very rarely heard, but still existent. Old stories are repeated, passed down, reinterpreted. The setting is almost timeless, but the past is a clear enemy. He is an ice-cream man, recently released from a Young Offenders Institute, trying to escape his past and his blood. He finds both are difficult to run from. He thoughts are tracked via flashbacks, building up a portrait of is family history, and the darkness within it.

Flashback sequences gradually add colour between the lines of John-John's past, explaining his actions and thoughts in a level far above his own understanding. That isn't saying that he is unintelligent- quite the opposite, he is wise beyond his 20 years- but his life has included a lot of secrets kept from him.

Nearly every detail adds paranoia onto the thoughts of the protagonist- his past is stalking him, and will catch him eventually. And as a reader, you end up dragged forward, towards the ultimate fate of John-John, but also to achieve a sense of closure with his past. Which makes the book all the more compelling.

Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gets under your skin, 25 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: PIG IRON (Kindle Edition)
It’s a story that drags you into a world all too readily prejudged and forces you to look at life another way. The character of John-John Wisdom is sympathetic, deep, dignified and endearing, even when he’s pounding another man to a pulp.
It’s hard and brutal and contains several graphic scenes of violence or cruelty, but these are not gratuitous. Shocking, yes, but crucial to both storyline and character. There are also tender moments, where we see the hope and love creeping through the cracks in both toughened facades.
The split narrative is an intelligent device which compounds one of the novel’s themes, that of the inescapability of the past. The second narrator, whom I won’t name for fear of spoilers, gradually reveals what happened in the past. There is a tragic fatalism in this for the reader, as we know how it ends up. Or think we do. Whereas John-John’s story is just beginning, and we’re willing him to sidestep all the traps.
The weaving of the two stories to the climax is perfectly done, and although horrifying, feels right and strangely satisfying. It explains a lot. The final image is one of optimism, albeit tinged with inescapable despair.
The author uses a rich vernacular for both the voices, which on the whole, works well. The accent and localised expressions take a while to get used to, but are not overdone.
Overall, this is not an easy read but it’s fascinating, well-constructed, intelligently written and absolutely worth the effort.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brutal, but disturbingly believable, 26 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Pig Iron (Paperback)
Pig Iron is a tale of persistence versus hopelessness, serendipitous mental and physical strength, and vicious circles. Can we ever truly escape what and where we've come from, even when happenings and consequence are largely out of our control?

John-John has recently been released from prison, and though his crime his horrific, he is the narrator we root for. As the story of his bleak childhood - or lack of - unravels and splinters throughout the course of the book, anger at the injustice he suffers intensifies to the point where the reader's morals are tested and challenged. He is prejudiced against and persecuted by his own family, his (brief) lover and the people he has the misfortune of meeting, so though the reader is unsure where the plot is heading, we are not surprised to meet an eye for an eye. It is only then that John-John challenges the past and makes a pact with a familiar devil.

Though the blunt brutality of both plot and revelation is intense, it is not unbelievable. John-John's connection with animals and love of the land and his 'green cathedral' presents hope for the future - new horizons, new bonds - despite death and destruction never being far from the scene.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eye opening, 10 Feb. 2014
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Judy (Cheshire,UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pig Iron (Kindle Edition)
This was chosen by my Book Group or I might not have persevered beyond the first few pages otherwise. However I soon became hooked. Told by two voices it charts the story of a young traveller lad newly released from prison. The language is both shocking and beautiful. Beautiful, poetic descriptive passages from the lad and his 'mother' and the most shocking language from the other characters. Even more shocking, but no doubt true to life, horrendous narrative about the lives of the characters living on a dead end housing estate in the north-east. Not an easy read but eye-opening.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Canny good, 1 Sept. 2012
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This review is from: Pig Iron (Paperback)
As a lover of fiction having grown up in Durham, and hearing of favourable sales of Pig Iron at the local Waterstones I very much looked forward to reading this book. I was not at all disappointed. My expectations were that it would evoke fond memories of the city, which it certainly did (albeit in rather more harrowing circumstances to those forming my own cosy upbringing), and that the story would be entertaining, which it definitely was. The plot is compelling, the characters are portrayed with a little exaggeration but are generally true to life and the brave decision to write the majority of the narrative in the local dialect works very well. Two thirds through the books steps up a gear with some harshly graphic scenes (entirely non-gratuitous and essential to the story) that almost served their purpose too well and caused me to stop reading... however perseverance paid off as the final third was gripping and led to a mature and thought provoking finale. Well done Benjamin Myers!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping novel, 27 Oct. 2012
This review is from: Pig Iron (Paperback)
John-John Wisdom is fresh out of prison having served five years for murdering his dad, bare-knuckle boxer and self-proclaimed 'King of the Gypsies', Mac Wisdom. His parole officer has found him a flat in the centre of town and he's got himself a job running an ice-cream van route. He plans to keep his head down but realises that's not going to be possible when he has a run-in with the local hard nuts.

John-John's story is interspersed with that of his father, told from John-John's mother's point of view. Both stories contain a fair bit of violence, highlighting the grimness of particular ways of life - ways that aren't necessarily of someone's own choosing.

Told in a Durham accent and easy to understand vernacular, Myers has created a character that you find yourself rooting for and a highly convincing portrait of a section of England often derided or ignored.
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Pig Iron
Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers (Paperback - 31 May 2012)
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