I went to school in South West London, and right next to the school was an estate called the Lennox. As a group of buildings, it wasn’t particularly imposing – they weren’t high rises, but it was enclosed and labyrinthine, seemingly shut off from the rest of the world. It was concrete, grey, with patches of grass sticking up from roofs and walkways. In my mind there was a disused playground, with the archetypal broken swing, left hanging uselessly for the dogs to strengthen their jaws on, although that could just be my imagination – but you get the idea.
You didn’t go on the Lennox unless you lived there or had been invited. It was just an understanding everyone had. I don’t think anyone ever told me that, I just knew. Obviously most of the kids who lived on the estate went to my school, (although some of them went to the Church School down the road, which created all sorts of problems on the buses before the days of community support officers at every bus stop at hometime – total carnage and a huge amount of fighting and smoking. Fun times!).
Some of the Lennox residents were proud of the fact that they lived there, some of them weren’t. I was jealous of people who did. They all knew each other – their mums were mates with each other and their older sisters babysat for other friends. There was community – which is the main thing we didn’t have in our semi detached house in West London. Even now, I remember how I wanted to belong, just like the kids from the estate did.
It’s this atmosphere captured in this book that I appreciated. Guy Gunaratne has created an environment where his protagonists live, which has created them, their friendship groups, their dreams and their nightmares. By staging the story within an imposing estate in North West London, he has created a stage where there are clear lines of territories – his characters are surrounded by it’s towers and feel cut off from the rest of London by it’s boundaries. Talk of how madness is brewed within them doesn’t feel outlandish.
Within the first paragraph of this debut novel, it’s fairly obvious that as a reader you’re going to be expected to keep up and be as unflinching as possible. It’s like the author has laid down a challenge for you, and if you’re game, you’ll be rewarded. It’s an uncompromising method of writing.
This sense of belonging but wanting to escape pervades the story and challenges the concept of community – certainly there’s not much babysitting going on in this estate. It’s a meaty, sad yet poetic read – highly recommended.