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In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne
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In Our Mad and Furious City (2018)

by Guy Gunaratne

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1017182,678 (3.86)25
Long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker PrizeShort-listed for the 2018 Gordon Burn PrizeShort-listed for the 2018 Goldsmiths PrizeInspired by the real-life murder of a British army soldier by religious fanatics, Guy Gunaratne's In Our Mad and Furious City is a snapshot of the diverse, frenzied edges of modern-day London. A crackling debut from a vital new voice, it pulses with the frantic energy of the city's homegrown grime music and is animated by the youthful rage of a dispossessed, overlooked, and often misrepresented generation.While Selvon, Ardan, and Yusuf organize their lives around soccer, girls, and grime, Caroline and Nelson struggle to overcome pasts that haunt them. Each voice is uniquely insightful, impassioned, and unforgettable, and when stitched together, they trace a brutal and vibrant tapestry of today's London. In a forty-eight-hour surge of extremism and violence, their lives are inexorably drawn together in the lead-up to an explosive, tragic climax.In Our Mad and Furious City documents the stark disparities and bubbling fury coursing beneath the prosperous surface of a city uniquely on the brink. Written in the distinctive vernaculars of contemporary London, the novel challenges the ways in which we coexist now--and, more important, the ways in which we often fail to do so.… (more)

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» See also 25 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
A few bits of slang do not a brilliant London book make, ennet. There are a couple of sharp points (such as where second-generation migrants fit in when it’s native racists versus foreigners) but the story fails to push through fully on anything it touches upon. Oh, and the writing is all over the place, with the ‘yoot’ passages particularly unconvincing. A let-down. ( )
  alexrichman | Aug 15, 2019 |
Winner of the International Dylan Thomas Prise, and nominated for the Booker and the Goldsmiths, In Our Mad and Furious City is deeply depressing reading if you love London as I do. It is the story of three youths negotiating the rise in anti-Islamic tension that follows the slaughter of a returned soldier on the streets of London, an event reminiscent of the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013. Ardan, Selvon* and Yusuf are London-born teenagers of immigrant heritage: Ardan is of Ulster Catholic background; Selvon's parents came postwar from Monserrat in the Caribbean; and Yusuf and his troubled brother Irfan are sons of the recently deceased imam, who has been replaced by a hardline fundamentalist encouraging radical Islamism and enforcing Islamic dress code with his own personal gang of bullies aligning themselves with the Muhajiroun.

The London that I know is the London tourists know, and the nostalgic London of my childhood: a quiet suburban street in Rickmansworth where I danced the Maypole at a village fair; watching fireworks from the roof garden of a flat in Chelsea; and feeding the ducks with my grandfather at Queens Park in Kilburn. That's not the 'real' London, any more than any part of Melbourne can be said to be the 'real' Melbourne. But it's not the grime, grit and hopelessness of Gunaratne's London that depresses me. There are pockets of disadvantage in cities the world over, and none of that is going to change unless people get over their disenchantment with politics, and in sufficient numbers join or form parties that offer an alternative to existing policies that perpetuate inequality. No, what depresses me is the deeply divided nature of the city depicted by Gunaratne, a situation described just this weekend in 'Britain is in the grip of an existential crisis that reaches far beyond Brexit' by Aditya Chakrabortty at The Guardian. (If you want any proof that the Queen is a useless figurehead, it's her failure to unify the British people in the face of this crisis).

In Our Mad and Furious City takes place over 48 hours, in which the boys go from playing football with a bunch of other kids from all over (immigrants from Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and Ireland) to being sucked into the violence of a riot between Islamists and White Supremacists. The story is narrated by five voices: Yusuf, Ardan and Selvan, plus Ardan's alcoholic mother Caroline and Selvan's father Nelson, profoundly disabled by a stroke. Yusuf's mother doesn't have a voice and is barely a presence because she has been crushed not only by the death of her husband in a car accident but also by the shame of her son Irfan's #NoSpoilers immoral behaviour. But her husband's voice, treasured in Yusuf's memory, is the voice of the moderate imam who kept the radicals at bay. Yusuf hears his father quoting parts of the Qur'an that suit the message of tolerance and peace.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2019/05/30/in-our-mad-and-furious-city-by-guy-gunaratne... ( )
  anzlitlovers | May 30, 2019 |
This is an ambitious debut novel, polyvocal and steeped in different dialects, slang, and patois. There are five POV characters and the chapters alternate among them. The reader is thrust into a London setting that isn't likely to be familiar to most: a housing estate in Neasden. We read the internal monologues of two middle-aged characters, Caroline from Northern Ireland and Nelson from Monserrat, and three young men: Ardan, Selvon, and Yusuf (we also read brief chapters from Yusuf's brother Irfan's perspective). We know that the three are friends, but their relationships to the older characters are revealed more slowly.

From the title and the prologue it is clear that the novel will be building toward something that is violent, and both the background chapters and the present-day setting lay the groundwork for that. Ardan, Selvon, and Yusuf are all caught up in the group conflict and small-scale violence that characterizes their neighborhood, try as they might to avoid it. Selvon runs and trains, Ardan makes street music, and Yusuf tries to navigate between his friends and his Muslim community. All of these are difficult because no one in the area can escape the "which side are you on" question, no matter how hard they may try.

Much of the novel is taken up with the rotating perspectives of the characters, and we see events from multiple points of view. Over time we get a rich sense of this world and how they navigate it, but for readers who want plot, there isn't much until the end. The story definitely builds over time, and it's quite carefully constructed, but when the inevitable climactic scenes occur, they take place very rapidly and the book basically ends.

Gunaratne does an admirable job with the different patterns of speech, although it can be disconcerting to switch from one to another. Caroline is perhaps the least convincing, but that could be because I had just finished Anna Burns' Milkman and that set such a high bar. Nevertheless, the register changes, which also have to include generational shifts, are mostly very effective.

Yusuf's storyline provides the fulcrum, and while this makes sense within the context of the novel, he is a character to whom things happen rather than one who acts. As a result, his and his family's story feels the most familiar and the least intrinsically motivated. By contrast, Ardan's and Selvon's trajectories are more interesting and their interactions with the previous generations feel thicker and more nuanced.

The final scenes, where the violence comes to a head, are well done, as are the smaller flashpoints that precede and shape them. The novel captures the way in which violence can shape so many aspects of personal and impersonal relationships in distressed communities, and how hard it is to avoid or overcome. ( )
1 vote Sunita_p | May 17, 2019 |
Ambitious and aggressive. I enjoyed it. Should read it again. ( )
  breic | Jan 20, 2019 |
This is another timely book from the Booker longlist. Centered around a government housing project and three young men. When anti-Muslim protestors threaten their neighborhood, the consequences are severe for one of them. Also interspersed are narratives from two older individuals who have faced similar issues in the past. I admired the way the author was able to make each character’s voice distinct. Not an optimistic book, but good observations about the way history and violence repeat. ( )
  redwritinghood38 | Nov 6, 2018 |
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