A splintered, polyvocal generational saga about people who don’t have it in them for extremism, even when extremism beckons on all sides ... This careful judgment seems to exist at all levels of Gunaratne’s debut. The author has a gift for sentiment without the refuse of sentimentality. Characters are made sympathetic in the space of a line ... The subtle hierarchies of racism are probed with nuance ... Description is always vivid ... Still, the writing can, at times, threaten to turn into something more suited to spoken-word, at odds with flowing prose...Luckily this turn never comes to pass. The prose remains alive, alert and subtly integrated, with various accents and non-standard Englishes raising themselves up to the same very high literary watermark ... Gunaratne is no doubt on his way. What you are left with – always a treat though not by any stretch as essential to all writing as some would have you believe – is a prose that benefits from being read aloud. But more so, a prose that just plain deserves to be read.
Indeed, much of the novel’s narrative engagement comes more from the unfolding revelations about the characters’ back stories than from their current predicaments or occasional hopes for the future. For all its energetic storytelling and (frequent) crosscutting, the novel feels curiously static; we are told at the beginning that the mosque will burn and the crowds gather, and after 200 pages of foreshadowing this duly takes place. It feels as though Gunaratne wanted to sweep his readers up in a 'mad and furious' rush of drama (and that semi-tautology in the novel’s title gives an indication of the elaborate prose he sometimes employs in pursuit of this drama), when in fact his strengths are in the quieter details—of personal stories, nuanced characterizations and especially in his multivocal breadth of register.
And it’s for those details that this book should be read. Gunaratne has a gift for inhabiting the lives of his characters, and has used that gift here to give voice to Londoners who are not often seen in contemporary fiction, and who will recognize themselves in this very fine novel—wearing the same trainers, speaking the same road slang, rolling out of the same school gates.
There’s plenty of London slang, to be sure, but it’s all garnish; the real sounds and deeper rhythms of the novel aren’t snatched from the streets but from literature. This book was incubated in a library ... But Gunaratne is a more passionate reader than he is writer. His novel is weirdly somnolent given how portentously it primes us for danger, for the burning of mosques and blood in the streets. On my first reading, I was not sure how this happened; had I missed something? Was I reading too quickly, too callously? ... Although interested in the clashing voices of London, of homegrown Grime music, the book itself is as tidy and contrived as a suburb. The characters speak their subtexts and announce their motivations. The rowdiness of the city is conveyed in summary, in blunt statements... and only rarely staged or subverted. Nor does the carousel of alternating viewpoints serve any real purpose. We see the same scene from different perspectives, but all reinforcing a single story. For all their 'fury,' the young men of the novel feel so thinly drawn and so stubbornly on message that they remain devices; every one of their thoughts and observations goes to advance the machinery of the plot.