Made in Britain, by Gavin James Bower

 

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The Independent Culture

Gavin James Bower's second novel is a timely portrayal of this country's disaffected youth. Told through the voices of three teenagers (Russell, Charlie and Hayley), Made in Britain begins with the bullied day-dreaming loner, Russell Crackle: "I live on Every Street, in a town that's so common it might as well be called Every Town". This now impoverished post-industrial community is based on Bower's own home town of Burnley. "Half of the houses are boarded up," Russell continues, "the Asians are taking over and the only shop isn't even a shop; it's a Co-op Funeral Care. It used to be a pub before the landlord, a man called Dorian who liked dressing up as a cowboy, got arrested for masturbating over a guest's face while he was asleep."

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This is Bower's novel in a nutshell: an uncompromising portrait of a community that offers its youth no options, where the only "happy ending" is the kind you pay for. Seduction takes the form of a schoolgirl flashing her arse at a teacher, or a teenage boy shagging a girl against her front door "just to shut her up"; a school leaver chooses to sell drugs over making £3.51 an hour packing in a factory or staying at school only to get "mugged off with a few A-Levels and no job at the end of it". Parents are either dead, alcoholic and abusive, or abused themselves.

Each chapter is split into the three teenage perspectives, and Bower maintains the difference between the voices admirably well. Charlie makes a mint selling drugs for local Pakistani dealers – because the only things whites will buy from them is "a pint of milk, or a chicken tikka masala". Meanwhile, Hayley fancies Charlie but, taunted for being a virgin, decides to seduce her English teacher. The only character for whom there is a glimmer of hope is Russell. A kind cousin in Leeds wants him to take his A-Levels there but, as Bower astutely shows, escaping from your roots is more complicated than just buying a train ticket.

Although his style is a little unpolished in parts, Bower's brave "warts and all" portrayal makes for an original and engaging novel. He neither apologises for his characters, nor tries to offer solutions to their problems; this is an uncomfortably bleak, but ultimately necessary, read.

 

 

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