Top critical review
5 people found this helpful
Modern Hounslow, innit
on 3 March 2009
First and foremost, a real feat of ventriloquism: Malkani creates a totally convincing fictional voice for his characters, a mixture of Asian, cockney and black American hip hop slang. Anyone who lives in London will find this familiar from journeys when the bus fills up with teenagers. It's a convincing picture, too, of a particular lifestyle, young men posturing and fighting in an attempt to define a masculine role for themselves, on the one hand totally alienated from their society - failing exams and looking to the gangsta life rather than the more respectable success that comes from working hard and going to university - and on another level completely enslaved by it, fetishising consumer goods and obsessing over makes of cars and mobile phones (to underline this, certain words are always spelled in teenage text-speak - u, b4 and so on).
It's an exhilarating, highly coloured linguistic ride and the pages fly by. The problem comes when Malkani has to decide what to do with this basic set-up: rather being driven by character, and focussing on the painful journey to maturity that his characters may or may not make, the novel becomes driven by plot as the consequences of Jas and his mates' dabbling in crime begin to unravel, and the latter half of the book turns into a rather implausible thriller. There's a brilliantly-executed plot-twist at the end which has you searching back for clues and admiring the way Malkani set it up, but I'm uncertain of its purpose assessed against the broader issues of masculinity, maturity and culture that the first half raises: it seems more of a mechanical plot device to keep us turning the pages.
So: a promising debut, a good reporter's ear pressed into service, a convincing depiction of teenagers in the no-man's-land between three cultures; but it could have been more if, ironically, less had happened in it.