Saturday, 21 May 2011

'Wreckage' by Niall Griffiths


I have just finished this condensed slice of life which criss-crosses Wales and Liverpool as it follows the hopeless protagonists whilst also switching perspective to other characters and perspectives to create a full experience. At first it gives the appearance of a crime caper, but soon it becomes clear that the focus is lives and locations: people and places and the way they shape each other. However, the crime committed does drive every action, the fruits of the crime a cursed chalice that brings bad luck to each possessor.



The scale of the dangers the protagonists face is both sinister and consciously bathetic. While the novel includes its fair share of sliced and burnt faces, disfigured with knives or irons or boots or hammers, the fundamental golden object being chased and causing all this wreckage is not some huge figure as in many crime capers. Instead, after hearing:
"Fuckin rich, Ally! Fuckin brewstered, lar! ... Pure fuckin rich we are, lad! Pure fuckin loaded, man!"
we find out it is a pathetic £4,000. That life can be so cheap and characters have so little imagination does a huge amount to make concrete the reality of their existences.

I have heard some people say that Niall's books can be difficult and depressing due to the colloquial dialects and desperate subject matter. However, reading them breaks down that perception. Taking this novel as an example, you don't have to look far for humour, poetry, and great turns of phrase that make me jealous that I didn't come up with them first, such as "Litterfruited bushes" (p56). The poetry in Niall's work combines with the patois to prevent it being a "Vomit Novel" (a genre one of the peripheral characters is obsessed with, though Niall is playful with the idea and does include vomit in one horrific scene).

The humour erupts amidst the carefully constructed chaos as frequently as the violence does. For example on p53 a pensioner complains about the bad language used nowadays compared to the past, along with drugs, shootings and burglaries: "we had none of it back then, oh no. Things were much quieter, more peaceful, during the War." Classic.

Politics is also woven throughtout the novel. Take this example from p17:
"People in this room in a hovering purple light. The music is loud and a TV is on with the sound turned down, some local news programme or something showing a concerned councillor in a yellow hard hat on a building site, bulldozers and cranes around him and he besuited and whiskery. Nothing comes from his mouth. He talks but makes no noise. The real people talking in the room glance..."
One thought that came to me while reading was: what has created these people, these places? It is one thing to show monsters, but without knowing where they come from it is difficult to reconcile them with any hope. The answer builds up throughout the novel, often through digressions into the pasts of the characters until by the end it has the force of an argument. The cause of this world, one of exploitation and violence, is History. A cruel, selfish, mindlessly callous history: a past of exploitation and violence for the benefit of those in power, whether it be slave trading in Liverpool docks or the imperialism of the English in Ireland. This is the underlying angry force of the novel.

Update, 27th May 2011: Niall - good bloke that he is - got back to me, saying "Lovely stuff, Karl. And perceptive - apocalyptic history is behind it all. Break up the title like this - Wreck:Age, or Wreck, Age. You've got it, mate." We've really got to make sure that we all try and build a future free from exploitation, so that we don't create even more problems further down the line.
Share:

0 comments:

Post a Comment