Hardly Children

In Our Mad and Furious City

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Paperback, MCD × FSGO, 2018
read an excerpt
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Guy Gunaratne

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Long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize
Short-listed for the 2018 Gordon Burn Prize

Short-listed for the 2018 Goldsmiths Prize

Inspired by the real-life murder of a British army soldier by religious fanatics, Guy Gunaratne’s In Our Mad and Furious City is a snapshot of the diverse, frenzied edges of modern-day London. A crackling debut from a vital new voice, it pulses with the frantic energy of the city’s homegrown grime music and is animated by the youthful rage of a dispossessed, overlooked, and often misrepresented generation.

While Selvon, Ardan, and Yusuf organize their lives around soccer, girls, and grime, Caroline and Nelson struggle to overcome pasts that haunt them. Each voice is uniquely insightful, impassioned, and unforgettable, and when stitched together, they trace a brutal and vibrant tapestry of today’s London. In a forty-eight-hour surge of extremism and violence, their lives are inexorably drawn together in the lead-up to an explosive, tragic climax.

In Our Mad and Furious City documents the stark disparities and bubbling fury coursing beneath the prosperous surface of a city uniquely on the brink. Written in the distinctive vernaculars of contemporary London, the novel challenges the ways in which we coexist now—and, more important, the ways in which we often fail to do so.

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An excerpt from In Our Mad and Furious City


There were things that I learned to call fury as a younger. Fury was a fearsome drum, some hungry and hot temper, ill-spirit or madness that never touched us for long but followed our bodies for time. See London. This city taints its young. If you were from here you’d know, ennet. All our faces were pinched sour, even the good few I spent my early way with. We were all born into the menace from day dot.

These were the hidden violences. Day-long deaths that snuffed out our small and limited futures. Since we grew up around London towers, struggle was a standard echo in our speech, in thought, in action. But it was only after the release of that one video, clipped from a phone of a witness, that everyone else saw the truth. The image on every news channel and paper, a black boy had killed an off-duty soldier. Soldierboy we called him. The black younger had stopped soldier-boy and struck him down with a cleaver. Then he wrapped his body in a black cloth and strung him up from a road sign. Stuff was dark. Darkest because it happened in a space so familiar. In our city, on road, and in broad daylight. The sound of the black boy’s voice came next, shouting into the camera about the infidel, the sinful kuffar. It was on radio and television, an endless loop. He called himself the hand of Allah, but to us he looked as if he had just rolled out the same school gates as us. He had the same trainers we wore. Spoke the same road slang we used. The blood was not what shocked us. For us it was his face like a mirror, reflecting our own confused and frightened hearts.

Violence made this city. Those living, born and raised, grow up with it like an older brother. On that final day when flames licked the domes of our painted mosque, we were all far beyond saving. Fury was like a fever in the air. A corrupt mass of bodies pulsing together in pain and rhetoric. Muhajiroun were herding our people along August Road and had us stand on the burned earth like a testament. There was violence in our brotherhood, that much is clear, though we never knew how much of that violence came from us or the road beneath our feet.

We were London’s scowling youth. As siblings of rage, we were never meant to stray beyond the street. We might not have known it with our eyes so alight, but it was true. Our miseducation is proof, ennet. Those school corridors were like cold chambers, anyone who went to St. Mary’s would attest. Our bodies were locked for verbal assaults, our words clipped and surging with our own code and fuck anyone who disagreed yuno? Violence shadowed our language and our lines tagged the streets. They’d read us on walls, in open seams, and dim lamplight. We’d cotch on park benches and waste air, sock-mouthed and bound, stupid to our fates the entire time.

Our tongues were so soaked in our defenses, we hoped only to outlast the day. Just look at how we spoke to one another: ennet-tho, myman, and pussyo. Our friendships we called bloods and our homes we called our Ends. We reveled in throwing crafted curses at our mothers and receiving hard slaps to heads. Our combs cut lines in our hair and we scarred our eyebrows with blades. We became warrior tribes of mandem, slave-kings and palm-swiping cubs we were. Our parents knew nothing. And most others? Most others only knew us from the noise we made at the back of the buses.

Close without touch. That was the only love permitted, though it was deeply felt among our own. We smoked weed together, borrowed idioms and shopped American verses. In our caustic speech we threw out platitudes, in our guts our feisty wit. It was like we lived upon jagged teeth in the dark, in this bone-cold London city. A young nation of mongrels. Constantly measuring ourselves against what we were supposed to be, which was what? I couldn’t tell you.

For those of us who had an elsewhere in our blood, some foreign origin, we had richer colors and ancient callings to hear. Fight with, more likely, and fight for, a push-pull of ancestry and meaning. For me that meant Pakistan and its local masks, which in Neasden meant going mosque and dodging Muhajiroun. For my breddas on Estate, they were from all over. Jamaicans, Irish pikeys, Nigerians, Ghanaians, South Indians, Bengalis. Proper Commonwealth kids, ennet. Even the Arab squaddies from UAE. We’d all spy those private-school boys from Belmont and Mill Hill and we’d wonder, how would it have felt to come from the same story? To have been molded out of one thing and not of many? There was nothing more foreign to us than that. Nothing more boring and pale to imagine. Ours was a language, a dubbing of noise, while theirs was a one-note, void of new feeling and any sense of place.

Place was our own. This place. Whether we heard the whispers of our older roots never mattered. What mattered for us was the present, terse and cold, where we would make our own coarse music. This was where we found our young madnesses after all, on road, or rather between the roads we knew and the world we felt we could never hope to claim.

So it was like watching our own faces made foul when we saw that video. When that soldier-boy was butchered by a homegrown bredda. That’s when we knew we were all lost to the ruin. They called it terrorism but terrorism never felt so close. Even when we saw the madness rise, when the hijab lady was slashed in the car park in Bricky or when Michael was knifed in North, the swell only peaked after that soldierboy’s killing.

I think about why it had to be a younger that done it. Why it was that when we saw the eyes of the black boy with the dripping blade, we felt closer to him than that soldier-boy slain in the street. But now I know this city and its sickness of violence and mean living. These things come in sharp ruptures that don’t discern. It was the fury. Horror curled into horror. Violence trailing back for centuries, I heard as much in mosque and from rudeboys on road. So when the riots blew up in the Square, when the Umma came out and the Union Jack burned in the June air, the terror had become unwound and lightweight. Each of us were caught in the same swirl, all held together with our own small furies in this single mad, monstrous, and lunatic city.


The Sounds of Northwest London

Text by Danny Vazquez

Playlist by Guy Gunaratne

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A Place of Ill Purpose

Words by Guy Gunaratne

Illustrations by Kenny Louras

  • "The language is virtuosic throughout while remaining largely true to each narrator's first-person voice, replete with their own distinctive slang . . . an impressive feat."

    The Times Literary Supplement (UK)
  • "Both blighted by frustration and elevated by dreams we can all recognize and share. Guy's characters are drawn with compassion and flair, and I was captivated by their humanity."

    Stephen Kelman, author of Pigeon English
  • "A beautiful, fierce storm of a book, full of courage and hope"

    Jackie Morris, author of The Lost Words
  • "The voices and the language are stunning . . . The narrative and energy hooked me right from the start and never let go. It really is a very special book—the book we've all been waiting for."

    Gautam Malkani, author of Londonstani
  • "A blazing, swaggering, polyphonic debut. Here is London through the eyes of those 'with elsewhere in their blood'. Gunaratne has a ventriloquist's command of voice, a film-maker's eye, and talent to burn.

    Simon Wroe, author of Here Comes Trouble
  • "This is cracking. Original, honest voices and a vivid portrayal of a London rarely seen in literature."

    Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train
  • "What a voice. What an ear for language. No mean feat to capture the street, the nuance of black experience, the architecture of so many different lives. It's a brave and original piece of work."

    Kit de Waal, author of The Trick to Time
  • "Gritty, grotesque; graceful and beautiful. This is the London that we call home."

    JJ Bola, author of No Place to Call Home
  • "Our favorite debut of 2018. Gunaratne draws on growing up in north-west London in this tale of 48 hours on a council estate, where three young boys dream of escaping."

    Glamour (UK)
  • "In Our Mad and Furious City is fraught and heartbreaking at the same time, with a biting, in-your-face clarity to it that you can't ignore. It's a searing marvel of a novel."

    Belfast Telegraph
  • "Already hailed as a modern masterpiece, this timely and authentic portrayal of life for young men living on our city estates is as mesmerizing as it is vital."

    Heat (UK)
  • "The prose remains alive, alert and subtly integrated, with various accents and non-standard Englishes raising themselves up to the same very high literary watermark . . . What you are left with . . . is a prose that benefits from being read aloud. But more so, a prose that just plain deserves to be read."

    Irish Times
  • "This novel is a love letter to the language of London's streets and to its people, but also a blistering look at a city on the edge that'll sweep you up until you reach the book's breathless, devastating conclusion."

    Stylist (UK)
  • "A blistering debut unlike anything I've read before. This is a powerful, raw, yet heartrending account of 48 hours on a London estate"

  • "A timely read, addressing the urgent questions of our divided society. We're sure Guy is set for big things"

    Metro (UK)
  • "[A] blazing polyphonic debut."

    Guardian (UK)
  • "Guy Gunaratne throws words against the wall and makes us watch them bounce. You feel the heat, reel from the sound, and bump to the unstoppable pulse. A novel so of this moment that you don't even realize you've waited your whole life for it."

    Marlon James, winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize
  • In Our Mad and Furious City is a brave and beautiful book. Guy Gunaratne can see into the minds of the young and the old, the angry and the pious. In this virtuosic work, an entire world comes to life: polyglot, immigrant London, a city of fears and passions.”

    Héctor Tobar, author of Deep Down Dark
  • “A novel that’s a piece of communal vitality, choral in its urgency, one that squares up to the history of division, makes contemporary disjuncture come alive on the page, doesn’t flinch, and demands change right now.”

    Ali Smith, author of Autumn
  • “A novel that’s a piece of communal vitality, choral in its urgency, one that squares up to the history of division, makes contemporary disjuncture come alive on the page, doesn’t flinch, and demands change right now.”

    Ali Smith, The Guardian
  • "[A] blazing polyphonic debut."