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  • Brass
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3.2 out of 5 stars21
3.2 out of 5 stars
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on 28 July 2005
An emotional coming-of-age story is not the kind of book I generally go for, so I was surprised at just how enjoyable Brass was to read. It's not the most original plot in many ways; without revealing anything too significant it is obvious from the off that the life of Millie is not as ideal as it seems. That's not a bad thing; it allows the author to concentrate more on the characters than the situations, and this is a very character lead book. Told alternately from the point of view of Millie, a student with a successful father and Jamie, her platonic older male friend, we see two sides of the same story, how in a friendship nothing is always as clear cut as it appears.
The language is bold, striking and above all realistic and natural. It's crude, but it does not feel forced; the use of Scouse slang works well, the situations and ideas are described vividly and propel the story along at a stunning pace. By the end of the novel you will have been shocked and amused, and you'll be wanting to read more, but you're at the back page by now. It's three am, and you've logged onto Amazon to see if there's anything else by the same author, but not yet. I have no doubt that there will be soon. A great debut novel.
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on 9 February 2013
This feels like a book written to shock and, focusing on young female hypersexuality as it does, it certainly has the potential to do that. The relentless tug of emotion-less lust, the drug-taking, the couple of references to Hubert Selby.. it is clear Walsh is a fan of the late American novelist's iconoclastic work. This is a novel of pestilence and whores (the brass of the title), a grinding place of poverty where there is not enough time for wounds to be licked.

Walsh's writing isn't without its merits, but I found the two voices (Millie's story dominating, best friend Jamie's voice pretty insubstantial in support) didn't always work. Millie in particular is such a hateful character that it is often difficult to care for her. The revelations in the last part of the book were not surprising in the slightest and I felt the ending lacked bite. But this is none the less bold writing and that has to be championed. I lost count of how many times the C word was used- no problem there, for me- but the scene of a predatory Millie and young teenage girl, drunk and covered in bruises from her abusive dad's hands, made me sick to my stomach. The writer acknowledges that hurt is passed down generation to generation then shared around in life. This hurt is secrets or lies or physical pain inflicted with a smile or the losses that strip away at us, human hurt that leads to animal behaviour.

Powerful in its depiction of the despair of red-lit Toxteth streets in Liverpool, the book does hint at the redemptive nature of love. There's something in that ending that is a hopeful beginning.
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on 5 October 2010
I found this a strangely compelling book; the central character 19 year old Millie,is presented at first as an out and out drug taking, sexually adventourous nihilist but of course she can afford to be; she has a nice middle class backgroundand University lecturer Dad to fall back on.

It is her relationship with the more scally Jamie- whose first person perspective we ocassionally get on his relationship with Millie and who comes out as the more rounded of the two characters- that is central to the story which veers too often towards a predictable template but remains well written and attention holding to the last.

In fact Helen Walsh's strength is in capturing the voice of her generation and the metropolitan underside of the 21st century UK city- in this case Liverpool. In a funny sort of way I couldn't help thinking it was our Bright Lights Big City reversed, a sort of hall of mirrors warping of excess at the other end of the social scale.

A good, stimulating read that if you tune right into, you will sail through. Just don't expect to be too emotionally challenged, or meet any people you can particularly warm to :)
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on 6 July 2014
This book has an unlikeable but very compelling main human character, who stomps around her city in a drug and booze induced fume, dispensing violence and emotional disdain wherever she goes, except where she feels that she is due money handouts or a shoulder of sympathy. She is an emotionally ugly late adolescent who hasn't come to terms with the fact that other people have lives, needs and opinions, and this makes her a very unusual heroine, because she is fascinating for her faults and for her mechanism. In fact, the real heroine of the story is the windswept city of Liverpool that she haunts: I see myself in the laughing, dim clutches of students that the girl despises with needy-eyed disdain, and I follow her movements around the named city streets like a wraith. Not a very comfortable read, but it's characters grip long after the book is consigned to archive.
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on 13 August 2014
Brass by Helen Walsh, is a drug and alcohol infused look at a teenage life based on the gritty streets of Liverpool.
Millie has a privileged background but after her mother leaves and Millie is left with her father she is allowed to roam the bars and clubs of her own accord. Throw in some hard knocks, prostitutes & fondness for teenage girls and you would be lead into thinking this is what Millie is all about.
You almost feel like you have been out on a bender with Millie and her mates as you read through this book, time slips away with you and so much happens you have difficulty piecing time together.
I would like to say all becomes clear at the end but I'm left feeling like a lot of loose ends needed tidying up before we said goodbye to her for good.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 19 February 2010
Written to shock, this succeeds from the very first page, describing a sex act for which a young woman has paid a prostitute. These episodes or ones very like it occur frequently in this novel and Walsh cannot seem to help pushing her sexual fantasies into our faces at any opportunity. These episodes, raw and roughly sketched in are often the opposite of erotic and sometimes quite funny. But don't read this book if you're not ready to be gobsmacked - it is this writer's mission to make sure you are well acquainted with female on female sexuality.

Nothing wrong with that, if it's your thing, and nothing wrong if you want to fill your first novel with the idea that it all has to take place in squalor, between drug binges and the heavy symbolism of lost innocence in a lost city (well, Liverpool anyway). The book is also, touchingly, about friendship. Millie and Jamie are friends and don't fancy each other, but meet up for drugs and nightclubbing forays because they're - like - soul-mates without desire for each other but with a bond stronger than sex. You might see this as far-fetched, but this, and Millie's relationship with her middle-class businessman father, provides the novel with some hope for redemption - there is little else of human nature beyond the basic in this book. If you concentrate on the writing and not on the ego-driven sex factor, Helen Walsh is not a bad writer. Don't ask me about plot though, I couldn't discern one.

If your main reason for writing a book is to be the wildest child in a small corner of literary anomie and cultural myth then this kind of gothic, transgressive, sink-hole nihilism will suffice. This is throwaway stuff however, from the other end of the spectrum and you will not read much here that says anything lasting or meaningful about human relationships. Walsh is no Rimbaud.
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on 1 March 2005
I thouht that Brass was a thoroughly absorbing book. The characters, although extreme, where easy to empathise with on some levels. The story flowed along at a resonable pace and the characters developed in personality as you got to know them.
The only thing stopping me remembering this as a good book is the ending. It just doesn't fit with the rest of the book. But if you can ignore the complete reality shift at the end, it's worth giving it a go.
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on 5 April 2004
I read Brass on a Saturday night with the rain pouring down outside my window. I was hooked from the very beginning. It's a novel that treats female sexuality in a way I've never seen it done before. It's raw, it's brutal, it's sometimes discusting, but most of all it's written in such a beautiful and intelligent way that I just couldn't stop reading. Helen Walsh - thank you.
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on 30 July 2004
Some months back I read an interview in The Guardian with Helen Walsh. And, although she didn't come across as a particulary likeable person her attitude towards female sexuality was strangely compelling. So, one Saturday I brought a copy of her debut novel and stole a few hours of solitude (in a Liverpool cafe) to sit and read.
I felt rather 'hip' really, with my black coffee, marlboro lights and this contentious piece of contemporary literature. The front cover just screamed, 'look at me-I am debauchery' and I was ready for it...I wanted to feel dirty and rock n' roll.
Instead...it left me angry, disappointed and actually,bloody astounded. How did something this awful wind up (not only) in my possession, but in print at all? When I finish a book I often find myself stroking the sleeve in a habitual display of affection. When I finished Brass it was tossed to one side with absolute abandon.It is the most uninteligent,shallow and loathesome work of fiction I have ever had the misfortune to read. It is a tacky piece of trash lit that belongs in the world of that glossy gossip magazine in your dentists waiting room.
If the cranky little Texan in the big chair wants to wage another war then I've got one for him-a war on the pseudo-intellectual and pretentious drivel, masquerading as 'gritty' and cutting edge in our nations bookstores. Oh, I forgot, he's probably safe...can he read?
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on 10 July 2005
I read this book in a translation, I'm not English-speaking.
The blood/pain/soul/body fluids Walsh putted in this piece of art is dripping from the pages and crawl under your skin to stay a there for a while.
Go girl go, Walsh gave me the most wonderful, intense reading experience I had since Fight Club, long, long time ago.
This is how books should be written.
Lean, mean, creative, intense. 5 stars, if 6 was possible, it would be 6.
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