This novel by Gillian Slovo explores the effects of a riot on people at different levels of control and privilege in society. I am a fan of Gillian Slove, especially her verbatim theatre work and I was interested to see how this novel treated the (fairly) recent events in Britain.
The 2011 riots in Britain were a shock to Londoners like me but the political response showed how out of touch with pressures our politicians were… and remain. The book is labelled a ‘thriller’ but it reads better as a state of the nation book and this is Gillian Slovo’s gift. She provides a voice for sections of society that would otherwise be ignores. Possibly, her work creating verbatim plays makes her a good listener and a wise judge of what is relevant and what is not.
The setting of the novel is the fictional south London Borough of Rockham and the corridors of power in Westminster. A black man dies while being restrained by police and the consequent tension explodes on a housing estate that has already been condemned by the local authority. There is a new commissioner, Joshua Yares, who must restore order and prevent the spread of the riot into other areas. The Prime Minister is determined that blame will not fall on him and his ambitious Home Secretary sees an opportunity for advancement if everything goes to plan.
The novel cleverly switches between the elite and the people at the other end of the scale. Cathy stands as the character representing this other Britain. She is a single mother of a mixed race child living in a flat on an estate that will not exist for much longer. She knows the person who dies at the hands of the police and she knows the person the police are most interested in tracking down. She is a woman doing her best in difficult circumstances. Her compassion is shown through her care of her neighbours and her determination to keep her daughter away from trouble. When the riots explode aroudn them she has other worries on her plate.
There are other characters affected by the tension, including the middle ranking police officer who tries to do his job calmly with no interest in the politics his superiors indulge in. It takes some time to keep the many characters in mind but as each have distinct roles and views the end result is satisfying.
‘Ten Days’ by Gillian Slovo is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?