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Various Books by Monica Lewycka, Charlotte Mendelson, Gordon Burn and Paul Harrison with Prof David Wilson

“Two Caravans” (2007) by Marina Lewycka


There seems to be a new genre of literature that has sprung up over the last couple of years; “Ethnic Chick Lit”, and whilst I enjoyed enormously Lewycka’s first novel “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian”, I found this book to be bunged full of stereotypes and crammed with tabliody vignettes which smacked of a lazy approach.


 Yes, we all know what goes on inside battery farms and that Bernard Matthews is a national disgrace.


 Ken Loach and others have tackled the plight of Eastern European immigrant labour with far greater sensitivity, and the humour in this book is at the expense of the very people she claims to empathise with.


“Tractors” worked because Lewycka wrote about characters she knew from observing her Sheffield Ukrainian family, but the people in this novel come straight out of the Daily Mail.


 Feckless drunks from Karkov, Russian cigar smoking heavies plus religious and naive Africans are just some of the one-dimensional migrant workers in this novel which was badly researched and unimaginatively put together.


“When We Were Bad”  (2007) by Charlotte Mendelson


This comes the same ethnic genre. This time Middle Class London Jews are the subjects as, shock horror, the eldest son (go one guess what he does for a living… Got it in one. Barrister) jilts his fiancé for the wife of an Orthodox Rabbi.


Cue hilarity based on the social disgrace. Yawn. A chick Lit novel trying to be clever and failing miserably.


I only read it because it is on the Orange Prize long list and found it a thorough waste of time giving up after a hundred pages, as I really didn’t care what happened to the puerile, simplistic and shallow characters.


But now to books I did like over the last month….


“Best and Edwards” (2006) by Gordon Burn.


If you are looking for a blow by blow account of the football career of the two greatest ever British footballers, if you want the detail of who scored what and when, if you want long passages about the technical ins and outs of the beautiful game then this book is not for you.


Gordon Burn is not a football writer and this is the greatest strength of this fantastic book.


Eamon Dunphy’s masterpiece “Manchester United and Matt Busby: A Strange Kind of Glory” is the benchmark book about this, Britain’s greatest club and it’s soul during the building of the Busby Babes, their heart rendingly tragic destruction at Munich and the sheer will and determination of Busby and Bobby Charlton to lift the European Cup, a feat achieved forty years ago next week.


Burn takes us on a journey into the soul of post war Britain via the short life of Duncan Edwards who encapsulates the short back and sides era, then contrasts this with the emergence of George Best, the first play boy soccer star and his descent into a living hell of alcohol induced misogyny and ultimate self destruction.


George Best was not a very nice bloke, and whilst there was much to admire, there is plenty here to disavow the casual excuser of a woman beating drunk.


This is intelligent social commentary at it’s best, and placed in the context of football this makes it a seriously brilliant piece of work from the author of “Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son” which was a forensic sociological analysis of the Ripper murders, placing them amongst the economic and social upheaval of ‘Seventies Yorkshire.


Which segues in nicely to….


“Hunting Evil: Inside the Ipswich Serial Murders” (2008) by Paul Harrison and Prof David Wilson.


The title looks brash and very tabloid, and I was a bit unsure but I have to say that this reads more like a Sociology textbook in places as the authors get to grips with the causes of inner city poverty and how New Labour can be accused of letting this section of society down by not dealing with the issue of drugs and prostitution in a coherent and non sensationalist way.


The Daily Mail loves nothing better than to hype up both issues, and when they dovetail with murder it is a true tabloid feeding fest.


Until we deal with drugs in an adult manner, free from denunciation and which Party can be seen to be more “tough”, and until the buying of sex and not the selling of it are made illegal then this depressing scenario of abused, exploited and forgotten women (and men), prey to the likes of Fred West, Peter Sutcliffe, Dennis Nielsen will just continue to roll on and on.



 Well done to the authors for covering these issues with sensitivity, and raising the profile of a much-maligned underclass.


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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