Joe’s the only magnificent one in this novel about working-class life in northern England, for his simple-mindedness protects him from the despair and hopelessness of his friends.
Jim is the main character and occasional narrator of the story, which moves from 1990, when he accidentally kills a man, to 2005. After serving six years in prison, he gets out and resumes his life, if one can call a dead-end job and almost constant drunkenness a "life." His mates, Geoff and Barry, are much the same as Jim. They work desultorily at various constructions jobs—Jim’s a hod carrier—and spend most evenings in the pub. The only redemption in Jim’s life is his friendship with Joe, a sweet but mentally challenged man, and his mother, Mrs. Joe. Wheatley introduces some sexual tension into the novel when Jim loses his virginity to Laura, a prostitute, the day he gets out of prison, and later we learn that Geoff has left his wife for Laura, though he’s kept in the dark about Jim’s earlier connection to her. Eventually, Barry develops a scheme to rip off a construction site—though to his credit Jim wants nothing to do with this—and Geoff wins the lottery and runs off to Thailand, in the process stealing his friends’ money because they had pooled their resources for a ticket. Barry reveals the true extent of his criminality when he orchestrates a campaign against Joe, persuading people that he’s a pedophile. The dialogue throughout is earthy, with the f-word appearing dozens of times on every page and in every conceivable syntactic variation.
A grim and gritty novel, with a slight ray of hope at the end.