Something You Are, by Hanna Jameson

Review published on August 6, 2013. Reviewed by Mike Stafford

Nudge Reviewer Rating:

Something You Are is the debut novel from Hanna Jameson, and the first of her planned London Underground trilogy. In this installment, she introduces Nic Caruana, a twenty-something hitman from the capital, who is tasked with tracking down the daughter of a noted local gangster.

The curtain rises on Caruana as he walks through one of London’s meaner estates. Accosted by a group of youths intent on violence, he responds in a manner that will determine the course of his life ever after. Cut to the present, and he, like many of us, has carved out a career in the first industry that offered him steady money. It’s deft work from Jameson, as she takes barely three pages to establish Caruana’s back-story, and to offer a musing on how chance moments can affect the future.

As a character, Caruana defies easy categorisation. Jameson nods frequently to Bret Easton Ellis, and in particular American Psycho, but Caruana is no Bateman-esque anti-hero. He has a deeply dysfunctional relationship with his parents and his siblings, and on occasion is little more than a sniveling wretch, albeit with no amazing grace on hand to save him. Instead, he has the missing girl’s mother, a woman damaged in both body and soul, and with whom Nic forms a dark, twisted bond over the course of the novel.

The rest of the cast are cut from similar cloth. Flatmate Mark is in the same line of work as Nic, and while he talks like a socialist, he drinks like a nihilist. Nic’s sister, Harriet, is an inveterate junkie. Even the peripheral characters are all mired in the filth of Jameson’s London, be they murderers, enforcers, dealers or hookers. This is a noir ensemble par excellence: screw-ups to a man, bringing pain and suffering to themselves and each other at every end and turn.

The mood is gloomy, and the subject matter is violent. Not for Jameson the clinical, mob-style execution. In her coarsened, uncensored world, the blood flows freely and the violence is cruel. Bones crack and flesh is torn asunder by blades – there’s more than a little of Saw and Hostel in ‘Something You Are,’ with its punky, remorseless bloodletting.

This isn’t just edgy bloodlust though. There’s a real emotional resonance to the book, particularly as it reaches its climax. As readers, we may not want to clutch Caruana and Co to our bosom, but their issues are universal. Alienation, family breakdown, human weakness – you don’t have to be a contract killer to feel these demons on your shoulder. Indeed, Something You Are, has strong overtones of Horace Silver’s masterful Judas Pig, with its bleak, psychopathic but endearing protagonist, its black London underbelly and its emotional force even in the face of truly shocking violence. This is a hypnotic slice of urban noir from an extremely promising debut novelist – here at Nudge we’ll be watching the London Underground trilogy with great interest.

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