Mark Desrosiers's Reviews > Shawnie

Shawnie by Ed Trewavas
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Oct 04, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction
Read from October 04 to 15, 2010

I never knew much at all about the Bristolian dialect until stumbling upon this book at the library, and that's the most beautiful thing about it: the way everyone adds an "L" to anything ending with "r", or the enchanting use of "I" in the objective form ("gives I a cuddle"). On this level, the world of poetry and wordsmithery, this is a beautiful novel, "written" as an oral diary by four different characters speaking in Brizzle. For instance:

"Jason's me brother, e's fifteen an e's lush. Gives I presents, says lovely things, gives I a cuddle. I'd do anything for Jase. And I do. I gotta tell you about summat now. I knows it's naughty an that but sometimes I dooz stuff with Our Jase. Stuff that you ain't gotta do."

That's one of the more tender moments, but as you can see, things are very very wrong in this family. And it gets worse, so much worse, thick voices creating a bleak household of sex slavery, obesity, malnutrition, a tsunami of liquor, scalping (by which I mean, portions of people's scalps being removed), fellatio vomit, developmentally disabled handjobs, prisonbreak incest, and bodies getting beaten into a blob of boneflake mush. The book is organized as alternating narratives from the four main characters, Shawnie, her brother Jase, mom Lisa, and her boyfriend Steve who is a complete asshat yet offers the best description of the novel's setting: "yokels, cider-heads, junkies, dole-scammers, slappers and failed wide boys, all interbreeding and nicking their cruddy possessions off of each other in some giant, dismal rota."

Ed Trewavas is apparently a pseudonym -- he's a social worker in Bristol. And this novel pulsates with a certain bitter social-worker effort at explanation: incest begets incest, booze begets booze, you try to fix it. He offers Shawnie -- slightly dim, very obese for a 13-year-old, but also canny and resilient -- as a bizarre Brechtian heroine, the nastiest alienation effect plus no comforting resolution -- even the cleanup heroes here are tedious yuppies.

In the hands of, say, Martin Amis, this material would have devolved into an intricate Rashomon of snarky narrators (cf. Success), so give Trewavas props for turning it out in this googly-eyed, occasionally lucid stagger into the darkest night: four hopeless cases drinking, scamming, beating their way through a world that's screwing them. There's this one chapter where mom Lisa gets too drunk and passes out occasionally, preparing to be bunged by her boyfriend's mates -- every now and then recounting to us her blackout flashbacks, which I ain't gonna summarize except to note that they're terrible, beyond the velvet rope of proper, a cringe-inducing jump into the mind of an unfit and unwilling mother beguiled by a smirking bully. That chapter's some serious virtuosity on Trewavas's part, it's the reason the word "unflinching" was invented. And believe me I flinched plenty. You'll give this book an extra star or two when you read it too.

Further reading: check out this Guardian interview with Trewavas for more info on how this novel destroyed his marriage etc.
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Reading Progress

10/04/2010 page 46
18.0%
10/05/2010 page 81
32.0% "This is one of the most morally depraved novels ever."
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