I’ll start by admitting something – I really wanted to dislike this book. Not because I’m not a fan of Kate Tempest’s work – I find her performance style invigorating and was swept away by the anger in the voice of Let Them Eat Chaos.
So, why was I so keen to find fault? Jealousy? Resentment? A nagging sense that this would be a novel full of easy tropes and lazy symbolism of a forgotten underclass set in gritty urban realness? Probably a combination of the three.
The first third felt forced, dominated by telling the backstories of characters defined by their issues and social situation rather than anything interesting or sympathetic. The two central female characters are a drugdealer and a masseuse, jobs which they seem to hold without slipping deeper into the murky and dangerous London underworld. If it was a film, it would be very much a female version of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – mouthy, over-confident central characters dabbling in a violent and dangerous underworld without being too tainted by their surroundings to make them morally repugnant to the audience.
However, as the plot developed, so did my interest. Peripheral characters became more important and helped flesh out the two central characters Becky and Harry – the turning point was probably the family dinner held by Harry’s mum, where the observations of personality foibles feel more real and less staged to make some form of social point. Leon’s character also became much less one-dimensional, although he still acts as more of a foil for Harry.
The premise of the plot is an interesting one and once the action starts to develop, it propels the second half of the story towards the conclusion at an enjoyable pace. Adjectives like ‘roller-coaster’ would be superlative here and I’m not sure that I completely agree with the reviews that describe this as ‘shattering convention’ or ‘a galvanising presence.’ In saying that, if you’re willing to look past the obvious attempt at making this ‘gritty’, it’s an enjoyable enough read.