Make no mistake, this is a brilliant novel. And while most people seem to want to compare it to one of Roddy Doyle's Barrytown works, it more properly belongs alongside Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting. Like Welsh's breakthrough book, conversations are transcribed in local dialect and slang (the Geordie of Newcastle), once you get the rhythm of it, it's lovely. And as in Trainspotting, Tulloch is interested in humanizing the inhabitants of modern Britain's slums and ghettos-here through Gerry and Sewell, two teenage boys living in Gateshead. They play truant from school, wandering aimlessly, joyriding and thieving until they give voice their dream: to save up enough money to buy season tickets for Newcastle United. From that point on, all their half-baked scams and grafting are focused on attaining that prize. In the background is Gerry's impoverished family life: his mother slowly dying, a sister missing on the streets, a baby nephew and grandmother who need caring for, repo men coming for the TV, not enough money for sugar, and always lurking in the shadows, an abusive and alcoholic father who they all must hide from. Rescuing this from being a simple portrait of poverty is the loyal friendship between crafty Gerry and large but slow dog-loving Sewell (bringing to mind Of Mice and Men). The two are minor criminals, but it's hard not to keep rooting for them, even when one of their schemes goes nastily awry. To be fair to the comparisons to Roddy Doyle, Tulloch's narrative is more linear, he doesn't engage in the kind of phantasmagorical pyrotechnics Welsh does, not is it as formless as Trainspotting. Rather, the book is a masterpiece of bittersweet minimalist observation. If Alan Sillitoe had been born 35 years later, this is a book he might have written. Oh yes, and if anyone thinks the portrayal of Gateshead is overwrought, read Danziger's Britain, and prepare to be depressed about the state of modern Britain. Tulloch's next two books are set in the same neighborhood, with some of the same minor characters. The Bonny Lad, is equally brilliant as this, but The Lottery is a disappointment.
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