Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Book Review - Apples by Richard Milward

Twenty-three year old Milward’s critically acclaimed debut, ‘Apples’, is a heady concoction of drug-fuelled adolescent antics and council estate violence. Set in his hometown of Middlesbrough, it addresses the condition of British youth with an unflinching frankness born of personal experience. Intertwined tales of teenage love and loss are spelled out to the reader through the unapologetic colloquial voices of the characters, their stories punctuated by pop culture references and bravely abstract monologues by (amongst others) a butterfly, and a pair of street lights.

Although his landscapes are gritty and grey, Milward’s story is one of endless colour. ‘Apples’ is relentlessly upbeat in tone, bringing light to Middlesbrough’s bleak estates and dark humour to his downtrodden characters. The opening line, “We got a McDonald’s the night my mam got lung cancer,” characteristically expresses main character Eve’s deadpan acceptance of life and her unconscious evasion of sentimentality. Milward, although born into a family of boys, is surprising adept in expressing the tribulations of the young Eve as she grapples with her developing sexuality, involving everything from the aches and pains of periods to the necessity of owning the latest brand of lip-gloss.

Meanwhile Adam, Eve’s unrequited Romeo, must deal with a violent father and consuming social unease under the constant shadow of his obsessive compulsive disorder, introducing himself with, “I had to shut the door seven times or else my family dies.” He is the hero in this transparent fight against the chauvinist. As inexperienced party girls drink and dope themselves to paralysis in numerous drug-saturated mini-plots, they become the victims of rape and aggression from the deluded, devastatingly immoral Gary Clinton, leading to pregnancies, babies, and one terrifyingly misguided case of infanticide. Though ‘Apples’ will raise eyebrows with its honest portrayal of drug-addled fun, it is better understood through Milward’s own words as an ‘anti-macho fairystory’, a fictionalised first hand account of the horrific damage caused by the inbred machismo of British youth culture.

The fearless confidence of Milward’s authorial voice is breathtaking, undoubtedly deserving of the high critical praise it has received. Even more satisfying is the way in which his story never fully resolves into romance or tragedy, skirting cliché in favour of the realism of loose ends. ‘Apples’ is a gutsy, hot-blooded debut from an essential new voice of our time, making Milward one to watch in 2008.

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