Chosen by Farhana
Winner of the 2019 Jhalak Prize, an annual award celebrating books by British/British resident BAME writers, Guy Gunaratne’s exhilarating debut novel In Our Mad and Furious City has won a number of awards and was nominated for the Booker Prize. Not bad for a boy from Neasden.
Like Guy’s roots, the novel is also set in northwest London, in the fictional Stones Estate. It follows five characters across 48 intense hours after the murder of a British soldier, as riots spread across the city and tensions escalate nearer to home. These five are Selvon, Ardan, Yusuf, Caroline and Nelson. Three young men who should only have summer, football, girls and grime on their minds, and two older people with dark pasts of their own. These main characters take us through the story to its explosive climax, and each voice (the novel is mainly in the first person) is a pleasure to hear.
Speaking of voice (no pun intended), the novel’s use of contemporary speech and the language as a whole feels unique, authentic and fresh. Whether it’s the description of a boy sparring in a boxing ring, another boy spitting rhymes in a rap battle, a woman missing the childhood friend she grew up with in Belfast, or an old man reliving his journey from Montserrat to the Motherland and now wondering if it was all worth it – all of these characters leap off the page and draw you in. Even the setting is like a breathing, brooding figure, and I found myself really rooting for all of these characters (especially Yusuf and Caroline), despite their flaws.
The author, who is of Sri Lankan heritage and lives between the UK and Sweden, has also worked as a documentary filmmaker in human rights journalism, which has lead him to some of the most volatile regions in the world. Similarly, the novel’s intimate portrayal of the hopes, horrors and dreams of its characters not only makes for an engaging and exciting read, but also shows how all lives, especially some of the most precarious in the fringes of our society, have the capacity for beauty and grace.
A thunderously good debut, In Our Mad and Furious City both roars and soars, and Guy is certainly an author to watch out for.
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