This is a book set in the town where I grew up and went to school. Reading it was like jumping in a TARDIS and finding myself thrust back into the world of playground politics. So naturally, I didn’t take an immediate shine to it.
Londonstani is a story set in west London, and involves a gang of (immature, annoying, arrogant) boys who go around making money from selling nicked mobile phones. They all come from comfortable middle-class Asian families, but they all embrace the ‘rudeboy’ culture.
Jas (the protagonist) appears to just exist without any kind of real goal, at least for the first few chapters. Gradually you get the impression that his ambition is to be accepted by the gang, who regard him as a bit of a twit.
Later, his goal shifts from acceptance to getting noticed by a girl. The gang, and others, would disapprove though, so he has to keep this a secret. To impress the girl (and get one of his former teachers off his back) he finds himself getting involved with a more successful criminal. Eventually, of course, it all falls apart.
The thing is, I didn’t really care. Even when Jas was placed in real peril, I sort of rolled my eyes. The characters spend so much time confused over which parts of their culture they should embrace, and which they should reject, that the story feels nihilistic.
Jas does a lot of internal monologuing – I guess to convey the conflict he has between the somewhat reasonable kid he used to be and the little git he was becoming. But there’s no real internal conflict. He just allows himself to be washed along on a tide of insignificance. It would make sense if he was 15 or 16, but at 19 I would think he’d be better at independent thought.
This is why the story is so frustrating. These aren’t kids, they’re young men. They should be ambitious and optimistic, but they all appear to believe that if they don’t become petty criminals, they’re destined to work at Heathrow for the rest of their lives (which they see as the ultimate bad life choice).
The story really kicks off on page 259, and the last 83 pages are quite interesting. The end of the story is a surprise, but it sort of makes the book feel like a long parable, one that could have been told in 150 pages.
There’s an awful lot of slang in this book, especially at the start. I understand why – you want to immerse the reader in this culture – but this is sort of like tipping a bucket of ice water over the readers head. You spend so much time trying to get your bearings that you’re not really absorbing what’s going on.
The text speak is distracting, and the way the dialogue is formatted makes it hard to keep track of who is saying what. (Seriously people, what is wrong with quotation marks?)
The end of the book annoyed me, not because it was bad, but because the whole book felt like a set up to this one revelation, when it could have been more than that. A major event happens in the final third of the book – an event that should result in significant introspection and maybe even a total change in the character’s behaviour, but we can’t see any of that because it would ruin the punchline.
This is obviously the story that someone wanted to tell, and that’s great, but I feel like there was a more meaningful story there that we couldn’t quite get to experience.