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Using the same narrative method that proved so successful for Jay McInerney with his 1984 novel Bright Lights, Big City; Andrew Cowan delivers an at times tormenting account of childhood, told in the second person.
Your Fault begins in 1962. Peter is aged two and two thirds, and his mother is taking him somewhere he doesn’t want to go. A year older in each chapter, the novel charts Peter’s young life in an unnamed town, where his father is just one of twelve thousand men who work shifts in the Works, a place two miles in length and more than a mile wide, a place of iron ore, limestone, conveyors, furnaces and slag crushers. In an unnamed town that has the lowest male life expectancy in England.
In the early chapters, Peter forms an unsettling attachment to his young mother. He observes the way his father touches her backside, and imitates his actions, embracing one of her legs, inhaling her perfume. He lies in bed, listening to the clack of his mother’s stilettos on the pavement outside, as he wishes her to come to him.
The novel too paints a dark picture of parenthood. Whether that be his mother attracting unwelcome attention from male neighbours, or his father’s unwillingness to communicate on a level with his children. Despite this, you feel a kind of compassion and identification in both parents, as they struggle through the day to day routine like millions of others.
Cowan also looks into some uncomfortable corners in the form of early sibling rivalry with Peter’s baby sister Lorraine. Finding himself no longer his parents’ favourite, a potentially life-threatening play-fight ends with his sister in hospital and the thought that maybe, just maybe it was done on purpose.
As the sixties pass and the seventies begin, Peter, now thirteen and three quarters, survives the loss of innocence, his shame of masturbation, the awkwardness of discovering first love, a drag on his first cigarette and finding tribal togetherness amongst the Doc Martin wearing hooligans at the local football club. There is also the realisation that nothing lasts forever, not marriage, not childhood, not life.
There is a strong autobiographical, almost Orwellian texture to Cowan’s novel that could be compared to Barry Hines’ Looks and Smiles or Ted Lewis’ forgotten classic, The Rabbit.
An author of five other works, including 1994’s Pig and 2013’s Worthless Men, Cowan carries a rather fine writing CV that also comprises of mentoring two of the UK’s finest young authors, Emma Healey (Elizabeth is Missing) and Joe Dunthorne (Submarine.) He is an author that deserves to be better known.
Your Fault is a novel written under the microscope. Both unnerving and witty, it manages to embrace every little detail of childhood in the sixties. From England’s World Cup win, to pavements littered with moulding dog dirt, Matchbox replica cars and digging for worms in the flower bed.
Plus, some truly tender moments, like his mother pressing a flannel to Peter’s eyes as she pours cup after cup of warm water onto his head to rinse off the bath suds, before seeing him off for his first day at school. Andrew Cowan scrutinises each of these memories in an act of extraordinary craft.
YOUR FAULT will be published by Salt Publishing in May, here.
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