Monday, 3 February 2014

Ghost Town by Catriona Troth

Reviewer Chris Curran

Ghost Town is a fascinating exploration of the Coventry riots of 1981 and the events leading to them. Catriona Troth handles her material with a subtle touch and doesn’t flinch from showing the tensions and conflicts within communities and families as well as those outside.

As in all good fiction the heart of the story is an intimate account of the impact of these events on a small group of characters, particularly Maia and Baz. They meet when Maia comes to help out in the homeless shelter run by Baz. This is populated by the sad dregs of Thatcher’s Britain: those who’ve lost jobs that should have been for life, the ex-soldier trying to keep up appearances, as well as the long time rough sleepers and drunks. If this makes them sound like an amorphous mass of stereotypes nothing could be further from the truth. It’s one mark of the quality of Troth’s writing that each soon becomes a vivid individual.

Baz is also a talented photographer helping to organise an exhibition by local artists from the British Asian community. The exhibition provides an excuse for neo-Nazis and skinheads to mount demos and spread racist discord. When Baz is forced into the role of informal spokesperson for the exhibition, his own mixed race heritage is highlighted and he realises that he and anyone associated with him is in danger.

As the story develops, and the atmosphere in the town reaches boiling point, Troth keeps the reader guessing with an intriguing mystery, as Baz and Maia realise they are under threat from someone with a very personal grudge against them. But is it a figure from Baz’s past or someone else they have angered more recently?

As the back stories of the two main characters are revealed it becomes clear that these also have a huge impact on their present day lives. In Maia’s case it’s a friendship from her recent past that has changed everything. During the course of the story it’s brought brutally home to her just how great will be the challenges she must face for the whole of her future life.

In contrast Baz is scarred by a trauma from his childhood that has powerful reverberations in the here and now of the racial conflicts in his home town.

Ghost Town works as both a vivid record of a recent historical event and as a cracking good read.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: The 80's and Two Tone and Coventry.

Avoid if: Tough subjects such a racism, riots and prejudice alarm you

Ideal accompaniments: Cider and black

Genre: Literary Fiction

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