Gravesend by William Boyle

Review published on April 7, 2018.

This is an intense and disturbing novel about Gravesend, a district of Brooklyn.

The characters are petty criminals, drug dealers, misfits and no-hopers, and it makes for a bleak read. From the outset it feels as though things are going to get worse and they certainly do.

Conway D’Innocenti’s brother was hounded to death 16 years ago by Ray Boy Calabrese. Ray Boy has been released from prison and Conway is out for revenge. Bizarrely, when the pair meet, Ray Boy asks Conway to put him out of the misery he is in because of his remorse over Duncan’s death, but things are not that simple.

There are other complex characters, like Alessandra, a failed actress who has come back from Los Angeles to visit her father after her mother’s death. She is appalled by how bad life is in the neighbourhood where she grew up. She tries to reconnect with old school friends but this brings no comfort.

Eugene is Ray Boy’s nephew and worships his bad-boy uncle. He tries to emulate him by becoming a drug runner for a local gang boss, with devastating consequences.

This is a dark tale and only Alessandra has some hope by the end.

The language and style of the writing makes it a tense and brutal read. Short sentences, plenty of swearing, gritty descriptions of the nasty people who are the characters…… it does not sound appealing, but somehow William Boyle has created a very real story of desperation, wrong decisions and a kind of distance from the horror that gives us some sympathy for these tormented people.

I have no experience of the setting and this kind of underclass but somehow I felt I was there through the excellent descriptions of the places of the murky world of this city.

Not for the faint-hearted, but worth reading for the use of language and the chance to plunge into a horrific environment.

Dorothy Anderson 3/3

Gravesend by William Boyle
No Exit Press 9780857301284 pbk Jan 2018

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