Over-playing the 'gangsta' makes this a dry pill to swallow...
I’d made it over forty years without reading a Martina Cole novel, but ever one to give new things a try; I embraced the opportunity to add to my repertoire of authors. The Family spirals outwards around Christine; a silly girl with an ambitious mother intent on her daughter utilising her looks and brains to elevate their social and financial standing. Eileen Booth, however, did not plan for her fifteen year old daughter catching the eye of Phillip Murphy, eldest son of the Murphy brood and if the gossips had it right – an up and coming ‘Face’ on the local estate.
The bare bones of the story are rather bland: a mob-like family whose business is to own businesses or take a percentage of other people’s businesses; and the failure of Christine to refine her sensibilities to enable her to cope with what her husband does and what he is. It’s a sorry tale of coercion, murder, betrayal, drug addiction and alcoholism, with the entire plot underscored with the proverb: [/i]you reap what you sow[/i]. Cole takes us through the 80’s and 90’s, showing us the interactions and family dynamics of the Murphy’s – it is an unsettling and chilling depiction of a family set to implode – and implode it inevitably does.
Philip Murphy’s character is convincing as a true narcissist capable of dealing with people’s actions only in relation to himself. Others, his family, his wife, even his own children are perceived to reflect his persona, his ‘Face’ to the world. How they act, what they say – what they think – is subject to Philip’s censorship and approval. Christine is little more than a bystander; her rapid descent from adoring young wife to the drug-addled, alcohol-fuelled shell of a human being and her irrevocable disillusionment of her husband’s nature is, frankly, hard to swallow. Their conflicting personalities chafe the gloss off their marriage, which makes their relationship somehow less credible – even a closeted fifteen-year-old has some nous, and the young Christine was made aware of her future husband’s proclivities.
Lauded for her gritty realism and stark portrayals of ‘real’ life in the estates of London, Cole has acquired an enviable reputation as a bestselling author. Undoubtedly, she has a legion of fans; although I must confess to not being one of them. Her novels all read along the same vein: all gangster and criminal underbelly. But it is not the dark subject matter that is at fault – rather, it is her voracity for foul language that peppers the narrative and dialogue alike, like a nail bomb going off – and just as pointlessly destructive. Take out the swearwords and you’d half the book. And that, in my view, is not how it should be. No, Martina Cole is not for me.
We interview C J Daugherty about Night School
- 10 January 2012