Book news

  • A Ton of Malice by Barry McKinley review – a wild, funny debut
    James Smart

    A daydreamer leaves small-town Ireland for sex and sin in 1979 London, living a life of drugs, scams and altercations in this entertaining autobiographical novel

    School should be a springboard to something, and so it proves for Barry McKinley. Pulled up for daydreaming, he resolves to leave Ireland for “a life you can barely imagine, full of sex, sin and soccer on Saturdays”. In 1979, Barry leaves his small town, first for Dublin and then for London, where he struts into a job in the nuclear industry. His is a life of constant motion, skipping between grubby flats, street corners, scams and altercations, chugging whatever intoxicants he can get his hands on. McKinley’s novel-cum-memoir – “It’s almost all true,” the playwright explains on the flap – is a wonderfully immediate portrait of a distant world, when you could still rent a flat off Oxford Street for £60 a month, Irish migrants were an underclass of their own, pubs were rougher and cigarette smoke filled buses and tube trains. There is precious little affection in Barry’s life, and his only anchor is an ex-girlfriend he recalls with obsession. He reads at times like a speed-addled Dorian Gray, his handsome face and desperate insolence smoothing his path while his heart congeals. Wild, funny and furiously unsentimental, this is a fine debut.

    A Ton of Malice is published by Old Street. To order a copy for £12.99 (RRP £11.04) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

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  • The best recent crime novels – review roundup
    Laura Wilson

    Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips; The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins; Strange Magic by Syd Moore; Love Like Blood by Mark Billingham; Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson

    Gin Phillips’s Fierce Kingdom (Doubleday, £12.99) begins at closing time in a zoo in an unnamed American city, where Joan is trying to hurry her four-year-old son, Lincoln, towards the exit. When she spots the dead bodies and realises that the “fireworks” she heard earlier were actually gunshots, her focus shifts from trying not to be locked in overnight to keeping herself and her child alive. Over the next few hours, a deadly game of hide and seek is played out, seen from a kaleidoscope of viewpoints that include both the predators and their potential (human) prey. Tense and harrowing scenes make for some extraordinarily haunting moments – such as the colobus monkey mourning its mate, and Joan’s thoughts as she attempts to soothe her tired and fractious boy – in a powerful, unsettling book.

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  • Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value by Michael Thompson review – what gives things their worth?
    PD Smith

    A witty and wide-ranging study of the value of items from status symbol to rubbish, from being worthless to becoming valuable again

    This updated edition of the classic 1979 study contains two new chapters, contextualising and extending Thompson’s groundbreaking theoretical work into the idea that value is not a fixed characteristic of things, but changeable. Thompson divides everything from Bakelite ashtrays to houses into three categories: transient (“here today, gone tomorrow”), durable (“a joy forever”) and rubbish. After you buy something, its value declines until it reaches zero: rubbish. But then, through a mysterious cultural alchemy, some things move from being worthless to valuable. Thanks to “some creative, upwardly mobile individual” they are raised up from the bin and designated “components of Our Glorious Heritage”. Rubbish is transformed into gold. Drawing examples from such diverse fields as Stevengraphs (Victorian woven silk pictures), ceremonial pig-giving in New Guinea and his experiences as a carpenter in Islington during the early years of gentrification for “the frontier middle class”, Thompson’s witty and wide-ranging scholarly scholarly study is a fascinating contribution to cultural theory.

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