International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Review
by Richard Milward
Faber and Faber
Ruby C Harrison
got to hand it to Richard Milward, nineteen year old author of Apples;
if Id had my first novel published before leaving my teens
Id be well chuffed. But as for the novel itself, I cant
quite make my mind up.
Set in the gritty
surroundings of Middlesbrough housing estate, the story follows Adam
and Eve as they wander disastrously through their adolescence. Eve is
a stereotypical beauty with Barbie doll proportions and the blonde hair
to match. She likes to get mashed and laid in that order.
In the opening lines of the novel we find out her mum has got lung cancer
and through her narration Milward suggests this is why she likes to
get so munted. She doesnt really seem to give that much of a damn
though, telling us we got a McDonalds the night my mam got lung
Adam on the other hands is, in eves words shy and supersensitive,
the kind of boy whod be perfect for you if only he wasnt
a fruitcake. Charming. Adam suffers from mild OCD, gets knocked
around by his dad, has one friend known only as the prick
and is gagging to lose his cherry. Both these characters were people
I went to school with, I think everyone would recognise them.
It is the non relationship between these two that forms the vague suggestion
of a plotline. The rest is just a murky soup of hormones and ecstasy.
Maybe Im being too harsh, jealous perhaps of Milwards book
deal with Faber, but at points throughout the novel I couldnt
help thinking that any creatively minded adolescent could write a two
hundred page book about going out on the lash, taking drugs and having
His lurid descriptions of their nights out represent a substantial part
of the book and include several of Eves vomiting sessions in full
Technicolor glory. In fairness, they are well written and truthfully
observed, although not always that entertaining; we squashed past
tracksuits and some shirts to seats near the back, drinking lagers and
Smirnoffs and screaming in each others ears. Its accurate
sure, but worth five chapters of the stuff?
The separate voices and perspectives of the characters are distinctive
and true to life, but I got the feeling the books length would be halved
if the blow by blow accounts of their daily lives were at least shortened.
The presence of the near pointless rambling sadly dilutes the strength
of what otherwise is damn good writing.
It was only towards the middle of the book that I became reluctantly
interested in the characters; would Adam and Eve jump into bed together
and fall in love? It seemed unlikely. Would Eves mum survive the
cancer that was eating away at her lungs? Eve seemed more fussed where
her next E was coming from.
Milward has an obvious talent with words. Despite this gift for evoking
the atmosphere and feeling of an underage night out when youre
off youre rocker on ecstasy, the more meaningful aspects of the
novel lack depth and resolution. Across the book as a whole Milwards
intention seems to gravitate towards shocking and educating the reader
on the crazy life and happenings of the council estate instead of developing
characters you could genuinely care for.
At its worst, the novel reads like Shameless evil
sister. Their lives are more shocking, rawer. Take Claire for example,
one of Eves gang, who wakes up after a party to find one
tit squeezed out my new bra and my jeans halfway down my thighs. I guessed
thered be all that sludge in there. Her casual acceptance
of her rape is frightening and there is no thought or question of going
to the police. Perhaps most shocking of all is Claires subsequent
murder of the newborn baby that is the result. Next time I get
raped Im going to have an abortion she says and thats
that. I began to question all the terrible things the author must have
seen to be able to write such a book.
After reading up on Milward, trying to get some dirt on him the
jealousy is still there Ill freely admit it he annoyingly
appears to be unpretentious and unspoiled by his success. Indeed there
is little pretention in the book itself; he uses simple yet unusual
language that marks his novel as different and redeems it despite its
content. Having the guts to both admit to and describe the shocking
everyday happenings in boro is pretty brave.
The quality of the novel derives from this, as the plot itself, despite
the dramatic happenings along the way, appears at times to be going
nowhere. Indeed there is no conclusive end, or capturing cliff-hanger.
It was good to read a book written by a young person though; there is
an unapologetic, rough sureness to his perspective and turn of phrase
which I have rarely found in young adult fiction. Thinking back, I have
maybe never read a voice like it.
He tells it like it is and has not forgotten the perfect, bittersweet
agony of being young and wanting someone. I was more interested
in Eve, says Adam, adding just laying eyes on her was like
reaching enlightenment, or at least made me wee my pants. Brilliant.
For young people, I think it is cathartic to read novels like this,
to feel that someone has felt the same, or grown up in a similar shitty
environment. Novels like this should be essential reading for posh kids
too, to make them realise the life they may have lived.
In terms of Milward himself, whilst reading the book I had a sense of
his great potential as an iconoclastic new voice. The characters he
has created work almost as a metaphor for all the things he saw growing
up and it is clear he is filled with empathy for them. His drive to
get published and achieve through these experiences gives the impression
of someone intelligent, committed to his roots and well versed in all
he describes. I admired him for this. It is not necessarily what he
is saying, but how he writes it and it is this lexical gift which made
his novel the centre of such critical acclaim.
I was also impressed by how well he entered the psyche of a teenage
girls often messed up head. When she says contrary to popular
belief sometimes girls just want to have fun with their friends, not
get hounded by idiots and nonces I almost laughed out loud; is
Richard the only bloke under twenty five who has realised this?
His second, newly published novel, Ten storey love song
follows Bobby, an art student studying in north London. This, like Apples
closely follows Milwards own life experiences; he too is studying
art at Central St Martins. It is clear his work is centred largely
on the autobiographical. Luckily for him, being published so young and
with now two novels under his belt at the ripe old age of twenty two
there is plenty of time and interest for him to develop his ideas away
from his own experience. Who knows what he is capable of?
© Ruby C Harrison March 2009
Ruby C Harrison
so its 5.45 on a slightly gray, miserable Wednesday. But it is also
Orange Wednesday, and Im off to the cinema with the lads.
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibility
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.