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Steve’s 2018 Booker Longlist: Guy Gunaratne 'In Our Mad and Furious City'

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 26 Aug 2018, 21:44

Steve’s 2018 Booker Longlist: Guy Gunaratne In Our Mad and Furious City London, Tinder Press.

After a drear time with fair but uninspiring novels, that I couldn’t praise so leave alone, from this year’s longlist, I turned to this debut novel. What a difference have we here:

This novelist lives in and with the shadows of a highly socialised tradition in literature: one that attends to themes of social justice and the emotions that swell and subside within that realm. Here is an analogue from Aeschylus:

But heavily my wrath

Shall on his land fling forth the drops that blast and burn.

Venom of vengeance, that shall work such scathe

As I have suffered; where that dew shall fall,

Shall leafless blight arise,

Wasting Earth's offspring, -- Justice, hear my call! --

And thorough all the land in deadly wise

Shall scatter venom, to exude again

In pestilence of men.

What cry avails me now, what deed of blood,

Unto this land what dark despite?


In Ardan’s Irish heroic rap this becomes:

Cuh’ for me to battle you is a fucking honour killing (169)

So, at least for the Furies in Aeschylus Eumenides, the last of his Oresteia, justify their role in the affairs of humans and their social arrangements, at least before Athena soothes them into accepting a blessed role in a new and blessed city (polis) of Athens, beloved of gods and democracy. The city in Gunaratne is London, a city (mad and furious and no polis) that has become home to something like Aeschylus’ Furies, ready constantly to ‘scatter venom, to exude again in pestilence’.

The imagery of Fury and the furious in this debut novel could come straight from the Oresteia and homes itself in the appeal of justice by vengeance in the same way. And the roots of such thinking are various in London: the temporary death of a just Islam, in the person of Jusuf’s father and its replacement by a vengeful Mujahedeen; from Belfast and the laws of the factions ‘governing’ it in the 1960s, in Caroline’s story, and its inheritance by Ardan; and, in the repeated story from father to son in Nelson from the Windrush generation, that moves from riot to vengeful riot in an apparently unstoppable circle. Except for the hero of this novel, Sevlon! At the head of a scarred multicultural mates, Sevlon remains for, after one reading only, a puzzle but a marvellous and attractive one. There does seem to be some attempt to see in Sevlon a focus of possible redemption, but I haven’t got my head round that yet. Except that he, like Orestes, ends as a ‘runner’ but one who runs until he might find justice not just for himself but for ‘him’, the wronged Ardan and Yusuf (276).

This is an exciting novel – full of literal and metaphorical fire and fury but located in a politics whose dispersed roots come into a multicultural whole in London. At its heart is a multicultural positive – a group of mates, who, at the end of the novel, become the subjects of fury but whose meanings live on I think in the readers’ hopes.

I don’t want to say more – too many spoilers would come but this is a wonderful novel and would be a worthy winner if it gets there! Let’s hope at least for the shortlist!

All the best


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