Breakers by Doug Johnstone
Breakers is a joy of a book - which is an odd description for a novel with a strong thread of social conscience and an unflinching view of those who inhabit the fringes of society. But, the themes and the reader are in such capable hands that on completion, after putting the book aside, the reader is left with the memory of a strong tale well-told. The shimmering injustice, of a society that pushes people to the outskirts and to their limits, remains.
That isn't to say that Breakers is a worthy, morality tale. It is tense and taut as it throws the reader into a world of contrasts. A world where teenage Tyler is finding it increasingly difficult to survive. It's a place where his brother Barry is a housebreaker; his mum is an addict; his brittle, elder sister is vulnerable and younger sister, Bean, seems to face an equally bleak future.
When one of their burglaries goes wrong, they find themselves wanted by one of Edinburgh's toughest crime families. Populated by realistic characters who career towards sometimes brutal ends, there is a sense of sickening inevitability about some of their fates yet it never slips into predictability. It can be touched by whimsy from Tyler slipping into houses to play their records to Flick and Bean clambering the ramparts of the castle.
Despite a well-meaning teacher and a shrewd policewoman, Tyler realises the fate of his family may rest on his decisions and actions.
As the 'crimes' mount up, there is a haunting realisation that the real crime is how communities ignore lives curtailed by poverty, abuse and addiction; and how our infrastructure and institutions refuse to acknowledge and accommodate their lived reality.
The author deftly teases out the similarities and differences at both ends of the social spectrum but it is his characters who live on the margins who linger. He refuses to let Tyler and Bean slip into clichés and stereotypes and they emerge, vaguely triumphant, to hold out the promise of hope.
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