Pig Iron – Benjamin Myers (Bluemoose Books Ltd)
Just another social-realism novel? Think again, Pig Iron is a gritty tale based in the North-East that Alexander Garvey Holbrook believes is well worth investing in.
John-John – a young Traveller released from prison – is a misanthrope of the highest order; from his banal job as an ice cream merchant, he derides everyone from his boss to the children he serves, to his parole officers to the impoverished and the wealthy. However, in his quest for a rural idyll or ‘Green Cathedral’, he reveals his romantic centre; a man who suffered the same unfortunate epiphany as Lemuel Gulliver upon encountering the Houyhnhmns. In spite of this, everywhere he is haunted by the memory of his father, a feared bare knuckle boxer known only as Mac, as well as every aspect of his past and his Traveller lineage. Blood – with all its implications – is the preeminent theme, including how one’s past determines one’s future and how the fate of certain minorities may be already written. I have written at great length in the past about the impossible boredom and mediocrity of Social Realism in cinematic form, but this is a form which presents no inhibitions to the aspiring writer and is more open to Romanticism and the Magical than one could imagine.
Never has an author caught the sense of dread, denial and defeat in the downward spiral so thoroughly and accurately as this since Hubert Selby Jr.’s masterwork Requiem for a Dream. Myers’ blend of low-life settings and high art conceptions, coupled with a sharp knowledge of North-East regional dialectical inflections and the region’s mapping, are a wonderful throwback to Joyce, including a precise deployment of stream of consciousness for not only John-John, but the noir-ish recollections of his anonymous mother. Pig Iron, a term meaning at once resilience and crudeness, belies the Eros and Thanatos of Myers’ work, a novel of staggering power and wisdom by a strong new talent; highly, highly recommended.
All words by Alexander Garvey Holbrook. More work by Alexander on Louder Than War can be found here.