Compiling daily journal entries for an entire year, Rooney (The Century Collection, 2008) portrays life in the rougher portions of St. Leonards-on-Sea, England.
Once an elegant town in the south of England, St. Leonards-on-Sea is now scarred by crime, homelessness and drug abuse. As a volunteer with local charities and general friend to the homeless, the author develops a special relationship with the street people who inhabit the town. He chronicles the difficult lives these people live, along with notes on his own troubled life, creating a window into the struggles of individuals who might not be alive if it weren’t for soup kitchens and government-sponsored methadone. The stories of such people prove shocking albeit repetitive, as drug addicts continually seek drugs and the homeless continually seek shelter. A written record for every single day of the year gives the book a measure of completeness but also a hint of dull redundancy. Among all the heroin addicts and petty thieves, many aren’t particularly distinguishable; in fact, the author himself emerges as the most engaging character: He’s “been with a hundred, or so, beautiful women around the world, and married two of them, one in a hot-air balloon, and done things you could never imagine in your wildest fantasies.” Much of his time in the book is spent going to the hospital for various ailments or trying to get back a security deposit on an apartment, but he’s every bit as edgy as the people from the street. His adventures include experimenting with crack, speaking in tongues during a church service and speeding around in his Jaguar in an impromptu street race. Though notable, these events aren’t always described with the clearest prose; a thorough edit could help clean up several passages.
As expected from a year’s worth of daily accounts, there are mundane stretches; yet readers unbothered by rough prose will find plenty of southern England street-life episodes worth reading about.