I had an interesting experience tonight at the launch of Alex Wheatle’s new book Brenton Brown at Brixton Library. There was a speech by the author, a Q&A, then an excellent reading by the actress Adjoa Andoh, and then a raffle for two CDs of Alex’s music and a copy of the book. And for once, I won! Nice experience to hear my number called out, and can’t wait to listen to the music.
The book sounds great from the reading as well – it’s a continuation of a fascinating storyline from his first book Brixton Rock, about a half-brother and half-sister who fall in love. This book catches up with them twenty years later. I like this element of Alex Wheatle’s work, how he follows the same characters over different generations and in the process explores a lot of issues surrounding the experience of West Indians from their arrival in England through the Brixton riots of the 1980s and through to today.
I was interested that in his speech, he said his main motivation for writing is therapeutic, to work out a lot of his own issues, particularly feeling lonely, left out or out of step with the world around him. Perhaps that’s why, although he deals with a lot of political issues, his books don’t feel preachy. He is clearly engaged with politics, as he showed by talking about his understanding for the anger young people feel when they are abandoned by a government that wants to put them in debt just for going to university, and his empathy for them when the good choices are made so hard for them that they take the tempting easy options instead. But still above all it’s about people, characters interacting, storylines developing, and that’s the strength of his novels, at least the ones I’ve read so far. I’m looking forward to reading this one, and will be back with a review at some point (don’t hold your breath, though, I am waaay behind!).