September 2004

James Morrison

fiction

Foxy-T by Tony White

There are some literary movements which become world renowned, their effects long-lasting, like French or American realism, or modernism, or even the dreaded post-modernism. There are others which are launched in a blaze of calculated publicity, get a lot of media attention, and then are swiftly forgotten even by those who helped create them.

In 2000, a group of young British writers, mostly male, under the guidance of a pair of novelists and editors, Nicholas Blincoe and Matt Thorne, labelled themselves as "the New Puritans." They published a 10-point manifesto and a widely, if mixedly, reviewed anthology of stories, modestly entitled All Hail the New Puritans.

Some of the rules of this manifesto should give you their general aims.

We are prose writers and recognise that prose is the dominant form of expression. For this reason we shun poetry and poetic licence in all its forms.

We believe in textual simplicity and vow to avoid all devices of voice: rhetoric, authorial asides.

In the name of clarity, we recognise the importance of temporal linearity and eschew flashbacks, dual temporal narratives and foreshadowing.

We are moralists, so all texts feature a recognisable ethical reality.

One of these New Puritans was Tony White. For his first “proper” novel, he has done what many of the other New Puritans have done, and that is to throw their self-imposed rules out the window as soon as they start to seem like a limitation. This novel is named Foxy-T, the street-name or graffiti tag of one of the two main female characters:

They got proper names them two init but everyone still call them by there tags what are everywhere on all them like stairwell and flats and playground round here -- least where they aint been wash off yet or paint over. And they are Ruji-Babes and Foxy-T. Both of them girl work up the E-Z Call phone shop and internet up Cannon Street Road.

This excerpt also exposes one of Tony White’s real strengths, which might also seem like a drawback to many readers -- he has managed a sustained, 230-page narrative rendered entirely in "Banglish," the soupy mix of English, Cockney and Bangladeshi spoken by the first-generation East End Londoner children of Bangladeshi immigrants. For many readers, this will probably seem almost impenetrable at first, but it is surprising how quickly and how easily it becomes transparent, like the Scottish of Irvine Welsh’s trainspotters or the Irish of Roddy Doyle’s Rabbits.

Foxy-T and Ruji-Babes have a comfortable, quietly lesbian life in the flat above their shop -- a peace just waiting to be shattered by the arrival of Zafar Iqbal, fresh out of Feltham Young Offenders Centre, who appears in their flat one night and ends up sleeping on the sofa. Young, troubled, without family and with a bunch of dodgy mates, Zafar is used to a prison life where other people tell you what to do, and his inertia means he’s not going to leave the girls’ flat without being made to. He’s also looking for fun at a nightclub:

Aint take long till them reach at the Glass House is it and by the time them inside the place ram up believe me. Couple a well fit girl make straight over where Shabbaz and Ranky is wait at the bar. Them two was dress up init and Zafar find him cant take him eye off them behind and how them G-strings show through them white trousers. Them G-string is disappear right up there arse. Easy now Zafar. Shit man them two girl was lean over and say something in him spar ear and touch them arm and laugh init but Zafar just watch them behind like he never seen a girl before... Him no figure how some fit woman like Foxy-T aint make the most of herself is it and just wear them trackie bottom and polo shirt.

Now, as far as his Puritanism goes, it should be quite obvious that White is not averse to devices of voice -- nor is he against flashbacks, flights of fantasy -- including an extended pornographic reverie of Iqbal’s -- and foreshadowing when they drive the narrative ahead. In the end, though, it is the voice in which the story is told that makes this book a success -- who it is that’s telling the story is explained at the book’s ending, one which is both unfair to the reader but almost admirable in its brazen unbelievability.

This voice, this poetic street-talk, does a lot to cover of small troubling areas in the plot, and it completely submerges the reader in the world of the characters in a way that plain English never could have:

What he mostly done just stand by the door and watch the runnings. And probaly them rude boy knowed him just reach from Feltham or else man knowed that Shabbaz him spar cause with Zafar a stand in the doorway like that it seem like them thief stop away. And this kind of job seem to suit him most.

Foxy-T by Tony White
Faber & Faber
ISBN: 0571216854
240 Pages