Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Urban Grimshaw & The Shed Crew - Bernard Hare (long form)

Literary fiction: imagine dinner at The Fat Duck with Geoffrey Robertson, Cate Blanchett, Phyllis Foundis, Peter James and the Clintons (Bill & Hillary). It’s going to be elegant, a bit of a challenge but worth the effort, undeniably interesting, impeccably worded, potentially amusing and nothing like what you expected when you walked through the door.

Urban Grimshaw and The Shed Crew: imagine an interracial foursome with an acrobat and a cross dressing giraffe on a stolen boat in Martinique. It’s rough, exhausting, slightly sickening, exhilarating, you will feel slightly soiled – until Urban loses his virginity, then you’ll just be envious – you may or may not want to go back for more, but you won’t regret it. Oh, and no imagining – this story happened.

Typical book club books – even the ones we hate – are well structured. In the most general terms they start with a problem that needs to be solved, fail to solve it in a variety of different ways for around 300 pages until, something works – happy ending – we look at the author’s picture on the back cover, turn out the light and go to sleep.

Urban Grimshaw starts with a problem all right – glue sniffing, drug-taking, car stealing, out-of-control children running riot through Leeds. Bernard discovers them and sets a few boundaries – not many mind you, just simple things like thou shalt not kill – he completely fails to solve the problem in a variety of ways for around 300 pages. No solution. No happy ending, even in the epilogue. Then Oriel tells us that all the children (now adults) attended the book launch in Leeds – happy ending – until she adds, “except Urban, because he’s in jail again”. No Hollywood ending here, not even a Leeds ending.

It’s an Eastie ending – the area of Leeds around East Street – were endings squirt from the tip of a needle, crash home in a stolen car, or get stolen by the kids next-door.
Some of us were disappointed that there was no Hollywood ending – which says more about us than the book. Then we asked the question of Bernard that the book does not answer. Why? He’s written a great book, but what made him do it? Why hitch onto the out of control train that these kids drive? Why not run when he had the chance?

Personally I think it’s because Bernard Hare is a good man – in a shoplifting and heroin kind of way – who saw children where everyone else saw trouble. And to me, his acceptance of these kids is a happy ending (or happy beginning?) in itself, while others disagree. (But he is not a nonce because Trudy tested him and he’s OK.)

The most powerful element of the book is the poetry at the start of every chapter. It’s written by the kids and even if the book only exists to help you understand the poetry, then it’s worth reading. And like the literary dinner party, this mad four-way will be nothing like you expected when you walk through the door.

Who: Bernard Hare - Sceptre
What: Urban Grimshaw & The Shed Crew
When: June 2005
Where: London
Why: It's gritty, grim, extreme and fascinating
Why not: G
ritty, grim, extreme and fascinating is not always easy
How much: £14.99


Post a Comment

<< Home