A young black man struggles to surmount British ghetto culture in this brilliant sixth novel from Wheatle (The Seven Sisters, 2003, etc.).
At the outset, 23-year-old Dennis Huggins tells us he’s in Pentonville Prison but doesn’t say why, nor will he until almost the end of the novel. Long before then, however, readers know him well enough to appreciate the internecine warfare going on in his psyche. Dennis is smart, tough, arrogant and periodically mean-spirited, yet at the same time unswervingly loyal and capable of deep commitment. Born and bred in Brixton, the South London slum that hard-pressed sons and daughters like Dennis call “Bricky,” he well understands the neighborhood’s iron code, generally approves it and adheres to it when it suits him. Two main narrative lines structure his story. One has to do with friendship, the other with love. Noel Gordon has grown up with Dennis, fought alongside him and chased chicks with him. Partners in a thriving little street-corner drug-dealing business, the young men are like brothers. Dennis has spent two years crazy about Akeisha Parris, never daring to speak to her, yearning to “pack her away in my kit bag and take her home with me.” Akeisha is the prettiest girl he’s ever seen, but she is more than the sum of her lovely parts. Feisty and fiercely independent, she has her own closely held, high-minded value system, and yet something in anarchic Dennis reaches out to her. Inevitably, the two story lines intersect, at which point Dennis will act by the code and endure what he must.
Often brutal but always compassionate—a galvanizing piece of work by someone who obviously knows these mean streets.