Of Musings and Wonderings

{June 16, 2013}   Thugs Like Us – John Carnell [Book Review]

thugs like usThugs Like Us follows Jimmy, a punk teenager in ’70s Britain, growing up in a place where the job prospects seem to be either the Dole or the Army. The book feels almost like a snapshot of his life, as he parties with his friends, sets his eyes on various girls and deals with his brother’s return from the Army.

Check out a much better synopsis on the book’s Goodreads page here.

Everything about the book feels real. It sounds like an odd thing to say, but the voice of the narrator, along with his day-to-day antics, just makes  it feel like what happens here could happen anywhere. Maybe because it’s based on a true story. Or maybe because it feels like it reflects life in ’70s Britain (or at least the things I know about it from films, books and my parents).

Throughout, there’s the sense of something bigger coming. The sea is mentioned often, and although at times it feels like the metaphor is leaning a little towards being heavy-handed, the use of it does make sense, especially near the end. Plus, well, anyone who lives near the sea knows how much it can almost bury itself inside you. It does, at times, feel like a constant presence, and I think the use of it works really well here.

Along with that, the style really adds to the overall feel of it. We’re told things from Jimmy’s first person perspective, and it means that we get glimpses of a lot of different things which are not always explained or returned to. It works. Again, it adds to the overall reality of the novel. How many things do we see in real life that we never get explained? How many times do we see our parents mess up, only to be left with no reasoning or explanation?

As well as these moments of reality, we also see a blurring between what is real and what isn’t, especially when Jimmy and his friends take various drugs. These moments stand out simply for what they show about Jimmy. It feels like, at those points, we get a real sense of who he is, a real idea of who he is beneath everything else.

The pacing matches the story and although at times it can feel quite fast, it feels like that’s just the way things happen to the main character. Nothing stands still for too long, especially when things are set in motion. And, to be honest, it’s just one of those books that leave you wanting more, leave you wanting to find out what happens to Jimmy next and where he might end up. The ending is almost bittersweet, and it’s handled in that same sort of no-idea-where-he’s-going attitude that carries the novel.

It’s a great book, well worth picking up and very difficult to actually put down.

So head over to Amazon and grab a copy. You won’t regret it.

Favourite Line: “If it’s good enough for Captain Sensible, it’s good enough for me.”


Not sure it’s cool to comment on your own book review – but, thanks. I like it.
I think the reason it feels so real, Grace, is that it is largely true. I wrote it without using the benefit of emotional hindsight. That was how I experienced it. Looking back at that time, I could have written it with the sensibilities I own now. But I set out to write something very honest, and I’m glad I didn’t cave in to myself and lighten things up, explain things more and generally ‘taint’ Jimmy with my own future perspective.

I’m writing the second book now, where Jimmy ‘enjoys’ London! The themes include the rise of the Thatcher, the war with the I.R.A. and some South London gangster shenanigans! I also want to draw a parallel between Jimmy’s continued self-destruction and his battle to change, with the war being waged on society at large… conducted by much greater forces. I will also attempt explain his ‘visions’ which become more vivid and the significance of ‘the sea’ which remains a metaphor for an awareness of our own potential.

I like that you’re keeping with the sea idea. It’s weird how much it kind of keeps drawing you back. I think the first time I felt truly homesick at University was when a friend drove me to the beach. It was rocky as hell, wind howling, and I almost cried. No matter where you are, I think if you’ve grown up by the sea it never lets you go.

I think the reality of it made it much more…emotionally hitting, to be honest. The romantic in me really wants certain things to happen in London (I think you know what I mean!). Can’t wait to read it.

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