Whitehawk- Simon Nolan (Simon Maginn)
I’m very glad to add this book to my reviews list, being a fan of Mr Nolan, who also writes under his birth name, Simon Maginn. I’ve read a number of his novels, The Vending Machine of Justice being my favourite. This Brighton-based author is a master of dark comedy and satire, so when I got my hands on Whitehawk I was over the moon.
If you don’t know Whitehawk, it’s a suburb of Brighton with a particularly negative reputation and in 2010, was described as one of the UK’s most deprived areas. It’s a predominantly residential area comprised of ugly, high rise flats built in the 70s and 80s. The reputation is partly founded and partly unfounded. It’s historically been associated with crime, poverty and to some extent looked down on by those in the richer parts of the city. Sadly, my personal experiences of Whitehawk have not been pleasant. That said no one should ever be tarred with the same brush, because there are good people and wrong’uns in every community!
With that description in mind, let’s talk novel. We are introduced to Mel Baniff, a social worker who is assigned to a family in Whitehawk. She is hired by the Rationality Unit, a fictional black-ops style part of the Blair government, to see whether people can become more rational in their choices and behaviour. Nolan cleverly weaves Mel into the lives of an ill-educated, superstitious, criminal and frankly bizarre family. Don’t be surprised at sometimes finding them likeable; Nolan develops their personalities well and that speaks to a number of audiences. I found there was a slow build up to the climactic events that occur but it’s an extremely funny book that you ultimately know will not be dull. The reader is surprisingly beguiled by the dark and risqué tropes of incest, underage sex and violence.
Whitehawk is a cutting social commentary with truly astute observations on the British government and class divides within the city and the country. Nolan often adds statistics and social worker jargon that gives weight to this. The overall message, I believe, is that the country has gone to pot not due to the errors of society’s structure but a flawed society being a ‘product of faulty reasoning.’ Like any good satire, I think there are a number of interpretations of the book. This, combined with the carefully placed hilarity and uncomfortably odd plot, makes Whitehawk a great addition to any book club.
I admit it’s not my favourite Nolan novel but I highly recommend it none-the-less. You are taken deep into a world few would dare tread and it’s a fine example of solid, modern British satire. Nolan certainly appears to know his stuff and you can tell he is a Brightonian with his finger on the pulse.