Friday, 6 February 2015

Rapid Reviews : Our Vinnie by Julie Shaw

Picked this one up in a charity shop for just 99p. Hadn't heard of it before. It's the first book in a trilogy of memoirs (The Canterbury Warriors Trilogy) the author Julie Shaw has penned about her extended family, who lived on the Canterbury Estate in Bradford and had endless run ins with the law.

This first book concerns her auntie's immediate family, specifically her son Vinnie and her youngest daughter Josie. The novel is set in the 70s, commencing in 1970 and concluding at the end of the decade. We meet Vinnie when he is just thirteen when a series of criminal activities see him heading for an approved school in Brighton. It was only meant to be for a few months, if he behaved himself, but inevitably he didn't and the remainder of the book sees Vinnie move from there to borstal and ultimately prison. Whilst he's away from the estate he cannot protect the person he loves the most, his little sister Josie who becomes the prey of local paedophile 'Mucky' Melvin. Raped at the age of ten, Josie lives with the secret for three whole years, fearful her (rather useless) parents and older sister won't understand. Only Vinnie can understand and deal with the problem but, of course, Vinnie isn't there and when he does eventually return Josie must realise the price that has to be paid for having her brother back as her protector.

It's a briskly efficient read. I wouldn't call Julie Shaw a fabulous author, but she does have a talent. The language and the violence is inevitably rather strong but I've read worse examples of both things and I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys the likes of Martina Cole. As I say the book is set in the 1970s but beyond the odd reference to film, TV, music and fashions of the time (Vinnie has long ginger hair and a luxuriant moustache and not the dark haired Teddy Boy look the book cover would have you believe) the book could be written about the present day which I imagine is a canny move to make it accessible to a wider audience who aren't as interested in nostalgia. I believe the other two books in the series focus on the 1940s through to the 60s and I imagine a similar approach will be evident in those too.

The book can be a trifle cliched with scenes that are very reminiscent (nee lifted) from such films as Scum and The Hill as well as any other prison drama you'd care to name but I wasn't necessarily put off by that and in a way enjoyed the kind of Alan Clarke/Ken Loach kitchen sink vibe the storyline tried to pull off. It's also fair to say that the storyline is very predictable; you just know from the moment the drama kicks in that everything and everyone is doomed from the off and the remaining 300 pages just play out to your expectations. 

Naturally it is Josie who is the most likeable and easy to sympathise with/relate to character in the novel so it's a shame that, in watching her move from child to young woman with a child of her own, Shaw seems to bore or be disinclined to share the stability and happiness Josie's tale concludes with as only the scantest detail of her new family life is shown and her husband is only mentioned in passing and never featured as a character in his own right. As the book travels towards its finale, Shaw only really has eyes for Vinnie and his reckless, fated pursuit of revenge. I'm also not quite sure how much I bought Vinnie as an extremely intelligent, well read individual who just happened to be a violent monster following his own code of honour. Again, the more sensitive and secretive side to his character with his love of Dickens just felt like a bit of a cliche. 

Not sure if I'd bother with the other two books but if I saw them going cheap in a charity shop I probably would, just for completist sake.

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