This book is published by Caffeine Nights Publishing and was recommended to me by my some of my author friends on Twitter. I read it on a trip to Norway for work, and read it very quickly.
It’s nineteen-seventy-five. The heart of London’s East End.
As John celebrates the Hammers beating Fulham in the Cup Final, Kenny tumbles out the door of the new people’s house across the street having taken a beating of a different kind.
When the new school year begins, John befriends Kenny, defending him from the ridicule of his classmates.
But when you become mates with someone as odd, as downright terrifying as Kenny, nothing is ever straightforward.
Amidst the turbulent years of late seventies London, the lives of John and Kenny spiral out of control.
They meet again, years later, and local villain, Ronnie Swordfish, is after Kenny’s head. All John can do is watch. Kenny, he ain’t saying a word.
He never does.
So when Ronnie gives the order to fetch his three foot Samurai sword, John thinks the game’s all but up.
Thing is, he don’t know the half of it . . .
Abide With Me is a story of football, friendship, and hope.
A story of how two boys walked blind into the darkness . . . and emerged as men.
This book isn’t for those who are easily offended by swearing, I’d like to say first off. But thankfully I’m not and can appreciate that the swearing is totally authentic in terms of the narrator’s voice and where he comes from.
I was fascinated by John and Kenny’s story. Both coming from thoroughly working class backgrounds, they are innately good boys who have been brought into a kind of brutal world. The book is written from the point of view of John, and follows John through his childhood and into adulthood. The transition between childhood and adulthood seems seamless and fluid, rather than a jerky or awkward jump into the future. For this reason, as I reader I felt that I was genuinely following John throughout the years and didn’t seem to lose a sense of who he was. Abide with Me is written in the ‘accent’ of John, so Ian Ayris has dropped the ‘g’s and used colloquialisms throughout. This, for me, worked really well as it gave me a sense of society at that time.
Reading this book made me so emotional. It really shines a light on how some people who get mixed up in the gangster or criminal world are just genuinely good people who have lost their way or are too desperate to do anything else. Family love and loyalty is as ever present in John’s family as it is in any more privileged family. He absolutely adores his dad, who ignites and fuels his love of football. He loves his mother and little sister fiercely. The family is hard-working and decent, but when tragedy hits them, times become very hard and John responds in the worst possible way, turning to crime and violence in order to cope and make sense of his own world. You get that his family have tried to make him decent, and any point of view he has is not intrinsically bad or immoral, but he just sees the world in the way that it’s been presented to him growing up. If he says something mean, it’s not because he thinks it’s mean, he’s just saying how he sees the world. For example:
But he stood out the day he walked in, Kenny did. There’s the rest of us, shirts hangin out, trainers, hair not washed for days, and there’s him with his white shirts and shiny shoes, and this flowery fuckin tie round his neck. Ain’t like he’s even gotta wear it. Not part of the school uniform or nothing. Gets peanutted more times than I can count, he does, but he never takes the fuckin thing off. Poor bastard gets his fair share of kick-ins an all. I do me best lookin out for him, you know, best I can, but it’s like he’s fuckin askin for it what with dressin like that and bein so fukin dopey. I mean, for fuck’s sake.
Even as the narrative seems blunt and harsh, Ayris does a great job in garnering sympathy for so many characters in the novel. The book and the writing is realistic and still effective. John’s parents are hard workers and never make John feel as though he’s unloved, unlike Kenny’s family. As a reader you grow to love John’s family and as an extension, Kenny, who is brought to live with them when his own parents, for various reasons, are no longer in the picture.
Kenny remains an enigma throughout the novel, and the more you read about him and his tragic home and family life, the more you want to know. He is very quiet and acts strangely. I found myself wanting to keep Kenny protected as I read further into the book, but of course life doesn’t work like that. The story is such an intriguing insight into how a difficult upbringing can affect the rest of your life, and also conversely how a relatively protected home life such as John’s can still turn out very much the same way. It’s also an eye opener in that it shows us how different offenders react to what’s happened in their life and how they go about making things better.
We see both boys grow into men as the novel goes along, and we witness how they deal with what life throws at them throughout the years. John never loses his need to protect Kenny, even when things in the gangster world get particularly serious. In this way the novel explores morality, friendship and loyalty, in the hardest of circumstances. It is most definitely worth a read and quite unlike any other novel I’ve read. Ian Ayris and Caffeine Nights Publishing have done a good job with this one!