BRASS by Helen Walsh


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A tough Liverpudlian college girl delves into the darker sides of life, including female prostitutes, the “brass” of the title.

Millie and Jamie are best friends and partners in drugs and drinking, though, much to Millie’s chagrin, Jamie is planning to settle down and marry Anne Marie, a boring but pretty ex-model turned cosmetician. The story alternates between Jamie’s and Millie’s viewpoints, though it’s clearly Millie’s. She lives at home with Dad, a handsome college professor Millie’s fellow coeds swoon over, and she’s supposed to be working on her thesis. Instead, she spends most of her time in bars and on the street, pursuing ladies of the night, many of whom spurn her (one calls her a “perv” for wanting lesbian sex). British first-timer Walsh skillfully handles the local vernacular—it sounds real yet is far more comprehensible to an American ear than, say, that of Irvine Walsh, who’s an obvious influence. The raw style works best in the sex scenes: graphic, erotic, disturbing at once. But when Millie rapes a young girl in a bathroom stall (all the while assuring herself, and the reader, that “she’s letting me do this to her”), Millie goes from a somewhat dysfunctional young woman to a sexual predator—a shift that doesn’t ring true, given the broad strokes she’s drawn with. The story that takes over in the last quarter—Millie’s discovery that her father slept with her mother’s sister, explaining why her mother left years before—is much more compelling than the pub-hopping, cocaine-addled earlier scenes, though it does feel tacked on, as if Walsh rambled through a diary of Millie’s daily life before getting to the real meat of her character.

A fast-paced, gritty look at the back streets of Liverpool that could benefit from more depth and less dirt. Still, newcomer Walsh’s energy and language give an entertaining ride.

Pub Date: Nov. 4th, 2004
ISBN: 1-84195-484-5
Page count: 296pp
Publisher: Canongate
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2004