Thursday, January 10, 2008

the time machine

I claim to prefer contemporary novels. But perhaps I got more than I bargained for with Graffiti My Soul. In a settled but largely soulless Surrey town it tells the story of Veerapen and his friends, who resemble the kids from Black Swan Green grown up and a few years before they turn into the cast of Trainspotting.

‘Like fruit pickers, we’re seasonal. Summer is no good for our fun. We work better in the darkness of winter. One kid’s terrifying gloom is another kid’s safety net.’

Niven Govinden uses chapters of varying length and subtle shifts in time to build a picture of teenage life. We see Veerapen with his dad before his parents separation, supporting his mum through the lonely days that follow, we see him with various girlfriends, various male friends, with teachers and his running coach. The pieces fall both before and after the pivotal moment of the death of Moon Suzuki, the main object of his affection.

Govinden skilfully portrays both the inner and outer selves that Veerapen battles daily to unify. His struggle to settle into a singular version of himself was one of the most engaging and memorable elements of the novel. He makes a believable teenager - obsessed with girls, boys, sport, music and clothes - family bonds in the process of stretching but not quite breaking.

‘Flower-print normality papered over giant worry cracks; nothing fooling no one.’

This is a sharply British novel, acutely of the moment, liberally peppered with references to popular culture - myspace, i-pods, txting, happy slapping, pro-ana and even a passing reference to ‘insania’! And perhaps here lies its inherent weakness. Will these references mean anything to a reader who comes to this novel in 10 or 15 years time, or will the majority of the text be as incomprehensible as most small town graffiti?

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