ghost town [book review]

During my week in Warwick, I bought a book called Ghost Town, by Catriona Troth, from the campus bookstore, somewhat randomly, mostly because its back-cover was mentioning Coventry in the early 1980’s, racial riots, and anti-skinhead demonstrations, as well as the University of Warwick. And Ska, this musical style from the 1980’s, inspired from an earlier Jamaican rhythm, which emerged in Coventry with a groups called The Specials. (And the more mainstream Madness from Camden Town.)  While this was some of the music I was listening to at that time, I was completely unaware it had started in Coventry! And Ghost Town is a popular song from The Specials.  Which thus inspired the title of the book..

Enough with preliminaries!, the book is quite a good read, although more for the very realistic rendering of the atmosphere of the early 1980’s than for the story itself, even though both are quite intermingled. Most of the book action takes place in an homeless shelter where students just out of the University (or simply jobless) run the shelter and its flow of unemployed workers moving or drifting from the closed factories of the North towards London… This is Margaret Thatcher’s era, no doubt about this!, and the massive upheaval of industrial Britain at that time is translated into the gloomy feeling of an impoverished Midlands city like Coventry. This is also the end of the 1970’s, with (more) politically active students, almost indiscriminatingly active against every perceived oppression, from racism, to repression, the war in Ireland (with the death of Bobby Sand in Maze prison, for which I remember marching in Caen…), but mostly calling for a more open society. Given the atmosphere at that time, and especially given this was the time I was a student, there is enough material to make the book quite enjoyable [for me] to read! Even though I find the personal stories of both main protagonists somewhat caricaturesque and rather predictable. And, maybe paradoxically, the overall tone of the (plot) relationship between those two is somewhat patronising and conservative. When considering that they both can afford to retreat to safe havens when need be. But this does not make the bigger picture any less compelling a read, as the description of the (easy) manipulation of the local skinheads towards more violent racism by unnamed political forces is scary, with a very sad ending.

One side comment [of no relevance] is that reading the book made me realise I had no idea what Coventry looks like: none of the parts of town mentioned there evokes anything to me as I have never ventured farther than the train station! Which actually stands outside the ring road, hence not within the city limits. I hope I can find time during one of my next trips to have a proper look at down-town Coventry!

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