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by John King

Category: Fiction / General
307 pages; ISBN: 0-09-973951-8

Rating: 8/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Dale


John King`s second novel about contemporary working class life in the capital focusing on male attitudes towards sex and relationships.

With a graphic reference to anal sex in the first four pages this isn`t one I`ll be recommending to my mum. John King`s uncompromising second novel centres on five drinking mates who have formed a Sex League awarding themselves points for each sexual encounter. We have Carter an empty-headed lothario with a football fixation, decent Will with his suspiciously middle class tastes, Mango a yuppie distancing himself from his roots, Balti a conventional lager lout and Harry who isn`t that well defined but has politically charged dreams allowing King to fire off a few class based tirades without losing the narrative thread.

The novel follows the progress of each protagonist. Will finds a PC girlfriend early on and drops out of the league, Balti is hampered by self-inflicted(and convincingly described) unemployment, Carter gets involved with barmaid Denise who hasa seriously deranged boyfriend while Mango the most interesting character is sliding towards sadism as he has to make do with prostitutes. The, ahem ,climax to the League programme is suitably disgusting.

Much of the subject matter is grim and disturbing the more so for being integrated with everyday observations that we can all recognise as true. Mango`s work colleagues encourage him to hurt his whores as a conscious act of class hatred and Balti`s feud with his ex-employer becomes an escalating spiral of violence. The language as you would expect is pretty choice throughout.

But King knows how to stop things becoming too one dimensional and the scene in which Will reflects on watching a family video showing his girlfriend`s recently deceased mother is all the more affecting for being rendered in King`s unsentimental prose. Balti displays an unexpected sympathy for a middle aged unemployment casualty he sees in the park. The ultimate redemption of Mango through the healing of family wounds is nicely handled too.

King writes with great pace delineating his characters throughlong stream-of-consciousness thought paragraphs rather than dialogue. Most of his sentences are either long with multiple phrases rolling on from each other or short and verbless.

King isn`t overly bothered about grammatical correctness or the odd bit of thievery. The "shock" ending won`t do the business for anyone who`s seen a famed 70s crime thriller while Will the thoughtful one with a second hand shop and right-on girlfriend is a dead ringer for the hero of "High Fidelity". Written before the Labour victory the book is already dated, taking some of the sting out of Harry`s hideous dream of an abortion carried out by right-wing Tories such as Lilley and Howard - a vent for King`s righteous fury at the infamous "Back to Basics" initiative. And Denise`s experiments with vegetables are a schoolboy shock tactic too far.

Notwithstanding the above a cracking good read for the broadminded who want an unsparing insight into contemporary Britain.


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