Another Kind of Concrete

Another Kind of Concrete by Koushik Banerjea

Started reading: I’ve been editing other people’s writing for a living for years, but the best writer with whom I’ve had the pleasure, an active tornado / aficionado of mixed metaphors that needed only a very light sweep, has now perpetrated a massive novel. As if crushing Rudyard Kipling’s assassin into Fred Perry fashions with a John King inspired Hobson Jobson tattered globaloid South Londonium Times. The relevance of decades past is still present in the farcical form of politics now, but the evocation and detail of growing up then is rendered in sentences packed with explosive meanings. I’ve only started it today – birthday reading – but it does not disappoint.

Updated: This is a partition novel, but only in the way that Ritwik Ghatak or more recently Moinak Biswas’s films are partition novels. Nothing of the cod Imperialism of Freedom at Midnight or Viceroys House here (those two anyway are the same elite-prejudicial Rolls Royce chauffeured India ‘tour’ schlock).

It is a novel you’ll read and worry that there is no way your kids can survive school. The only glimmer of hope would be to turn all schools into libraries, with a caged ball pen outside for soccer fanaticism for those who won’t read. Teachers are uninterested, overworked, and only the librarian has the time to even look and see who her students were, So Rachel wets herself through stress, K negotiates that national front and sweaty red-faced headmasters. The caretaker of the school almost the lone conduit of common sense in the first half of the book – K adding letters [co and ide] to spell confide where the caretaker was failing to wash off the NF graffiti.

The prose is like, I dunno, Paella, an old curiosity shop, two million mutinies, trinkets, and your great grandmothers sewing box all rolled into the one jumble: Tales of bundled decay as travellers spill their guts, pens scratch paper, the storyteller’s art leaves the lasting impression of a solitary tear rolling down a rugged cheek. The familiar landscapes of the Postcolonial city made strange by mixing college street and Canning Town, but hardly strange at all. page 91

Finished: On FB I wrote that being ill was my excuse for catching up with novels, but I interrupted the stream of hackery to give a progress report on this as its the best book I’ve read in ages, despite that I am half way through, and despite the book persuading me that no child should ever be entrusted to the English school system (no disrespect for teachers as they have no time to teach – the ancillary roles of school librarian and caretaker the only sites of care, time, hope, as is the case so often). Despite even, maybe because of, the cantankerous voice, so resounding with alliterated simile, each page has its puns, jibes, jabs and jaw, I’m only half way through, but wanted to note the progress (and how mixing College Street and Canning Town makes strange landscapes familiar). The middle section on the mother of K is really astonishing, not just because of the angular history that has been there all through the book – I’ll perhaps later track all that, I could have a guess at most of the missing footnotes – but because of how brilliantly the mother’s inner life has been rendered, intimately understood, lovingly portrayed, so that at present, half way through, I’m thinking contemporary literature here takes a step forward at last from the all fine but almost formulaic earlier epochs of – 123 sounding off down the years: – Rushdie, Kureishi, Kunzru… or Lessing, Coetzee, Smith… for sure beyond, Hornby, McEwan, Self … but don’t take my word for it, I’m still reading it – here is the author himself snapshotting a London bus in Lewisham on a particular day in the summer of ’77 – and this is just a taster…

Kaushik Banerjea’s Another Kind of Concrete, 2020. There is a new one coming later this year.

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