February 2007

Shaun Manning


Graffiti My Soul by Niven Govinden

In his second novel, Niven Govinden packs Graffiti My Soul with an array of remarkably engaging characters, and sets them loose ruining each other's lives before ultimately devastating their own. It's not a comedy, though there are some very funny bits; and it's not quite tragic, even though it can be very, very sad. Graffiti My Soul is one perspective on teenage life in the suburbs, and the small but poignant dramas and misfortunes that play out on the stage of everyday life.

The story opens in the sleepy suburb of Surrey, where fifteen-year old Veerapen is returning home from the funeral for his sometime-girlfriend, Moon. Through a series of flashbacks, Veerapen reveals an intricate series of events that led to her death. We learn that Veerapen, who is half-Tamil and half-Jew, has been catching flack for both sides of his ethnicity; we also learn that he is prepared to fight back. We learn that Veerapen's best friend, Jason, has never quite recovered from his sister's accidental death in a car crash. We find Veerapen practicing for track-and-field with disgraced trainer Casey, who still lives in hiding after being accused of child molestation the previous summer. And we find how Moon's new boyfriend ties it all together. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Veerapen is more culpable in his lover's death than he's willing to admit, but ultimately how much responsibility is his to own remains an open question. By the time it's done, Graffiti My Soul manages to be funny, vicious, hopeful, and thoroughly depressing, all in roughly equal measure.

Though Graffiti My Soul lacks the kinetic style of Londonstani, which featured some similar characters and circumstances, it still keeps things lively with a loaded cast of characters, and by tapping into those instinctual emotions everyone experiences in their teen years. These are keenly recognizable people: we've got Casey as the Creepy Former Athlete, Jason playing the Fun Guy with a Secret, Moon as the Tragic Best Friend-plus, and finally, Veerapen starring as the One Ethnic Kid. Despite these types, Govinden does a fantastic job heaping nuance and unexpected motivations on these kids, such that the raw material makes for a can't-miss: throw these people together and something's bound to happen. Indeed, the best scenes mostly involve the characters getting into each other's heads, and hinting at what's going on in their lives outside the narrative. This becomes both a strength and a weakness of the book, as the reader gets so close to Veerapen and company only to have the more dramatic scenes trip and stumble. Early action scenes fare better than the final few climactic moments -- the novel's finale feels rushed and incomplete, rapid beyond the anticipated rapidity the situation demands.

Graffiti My Soul by Niven Govinden
Canongate Books
ISBN: 1841958883
218 pages