This debut novel from Wes Brown is very much of its time and place. Pervaded by Yorkshire grit, Northern realism and cinematic allusions, it is a visceral exploration of a young discharged soldier attempting to relocate in contemporary Britain. The violence of Basra, Afghanistan, Iraq has been exchanged for pool halls, the dole, bedsits. Racial tensions and the idea of a changing England permeate throughout the novel that Brown sets in the Leeds of the working class; but it is in the drama of the Snooker Club that these pressures play out and climax.
John Usher, the returning soldier, immerses himself in solitary games of pool, a dreary alcoholism, petty gambling, which are poignantly juxtaposed with flashbacks to a hot other world of violence and war. These experiences are impossible to compromise with a mundane life of little purpose or meaning, bouncing clubs or working in faceless call centres. Throughout, the question of what he was fighting for, and the looming question of England, dominates. His latent ability at pool and snooker seem to belong to a more hopeful time, representative of an escape that was not fulfilled and can now only be used to hustle money for drink or rent.
In its working class roots the novel is at its most powerful, where tabloid headlines infect common speech and the steady decline of Leeds United seems to parallel something more important. The Snooker Club of Brown’s Shark becomes a microcosm for a fractured England inhabited by a population struggling to belong, but all grafting for their patch of existence. The gangs of young Pakistani men, the far-right nationalist groups, the entrepreneurs and young professionals – all are fighting for their England, their patch.
Brown’s writing is an alloy of hard Yorkshire vernacular and genuine creativity that propels the narrative forward, exposing the state of the nation. Often bleak and forceful, Shark successfully remains grounded in its characters, affirming our shared humanity in our base similarities. An exciting contemporary novel, important in both its exploration of now and of the human condition.
Shark is published by Dog Horn Publishing. Find them online at www.doghornpublishing.com.