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Grits Paperback – 1 Feb 2001
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With such classics as Generation X and Trainspotting, notions of generational angst are still a fertile breeding ground of forceful expression for authors. Now we have Grits, a complex debut from Niall Griffiths, in which the lives of a group of disenfranchised loners are laid bare as they confront their own anger at society and the ruin it has made of their lives.
Set in the socially complex late 1990s, these drifters meet in a small coastal village in West Wales, brought there as they attempt to escape their various addictions (drugs, alcohol, crime, promiscuity) and find a place where they can dissect and extract meaning from their damaged lives. The setting of the novel is an intriguing premise in itself: an isolated village, wedged between two of natures more inhospitable locales, the sea and mountains. It is a cunning tool, reinforcing the trapped nature of these lives, no matter the reasons they ended up there. Equally successful is Griffith's use of language: each of the characters narrative is written in a "phonetic" style, which allows their personalities and emotions to erupt from the page:
Evil is not an amorphous, anonymous fing; it has a house an a family, it eats breakfast, it wears certain clowthes an squirms tentacles in ta every aspect av ya life. It will neva give in ... Right now, someone is lacing up their polished black shoes and double-checking your address. Run.It makes it hard-going but perseverance yields effective results. Though it lacks the full-on deviant humour of Trainspotting, Grits certainly shares that book's incisive and gritty glimpse into a potent underclass who have willingly embraced an ideology of disenchantment, expressed through petty addictions and fuelled by relentless anger. An exciting debut that will appeal to the legions of people who feel such pain to whatever degree. --Danny Graydon
"An astonishing feat -- pulsing on every page with the unmistakable brilliance, authenticity and spirit of a magnificently gifted writer." (Irvine Welsh)
"Any fan of "Trainspotting" will find "Grits" persuasive, alarming and addictive." (The Times)
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Top customer reviews
It helps if you've actually heard the regional accents that inform the phonetic style of the writing before (there's a Liverpudlian, a girl from Yorkshire, an Essex boy and a few Welsh characters, so I imagine, say, an American reader would find it really hard going) - but if you have, you'll crack through the different snapshot-stories as if it were your own inner monologue you were listening to. The characters really do LEAP off the page at you, too - what makes the book so powerful is that you can begin to accept their motivations just the way they explain them to themselves, until you glimpse the same events from another point of view.
It's not all grit and grime, either, and even the worst folk in the story sometimes have a warmth to them. Disco-ball flicking from one scene to the next weaves each character's story tightly to the others.
I can't recommend it enough.
Griffiths does not exactly make his characters' shambolic, dole-reliant, thrill-seeking lifestyle seem particularly attractive to outsiders, but he certainly makes it comprehensible. They choose it, or are sucked into it for a variety of reasons - low self-esteem, disfunctional childhoods, a sense of entitlement, and an inability to compete in a materialistic, goal-driven society are all hinted at as factors. But he doesn't attempt to offer simplistic textbook explanations for addiction or self-destructive behaviour. He creates a whole spectrum of rootless (mainly working-class) characters without ever resorting to off-the-peg underclass stereotypes, from the relatively abstemious (but self-obsessed and unreliable) Paul, the Gaelic poetry-reading, amphetamine-snorting Colm, to the sociopathic junkie Roger (you can never quite tell whether the others put up with him because they enjoy his company or because they're scared of him and his drug-dealing associates).
I felt he didn't quite get under the skin of his female characters as much as the men, but still a very impressive debut.
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Strong characters with a dynamic writing style combine to make this the best piece of...Read more