Monday, 21 March 2011

Seth Morgan: Homeboy Review

I recently said that Tim Willocks' Green River Rising might be the best prison novel ever written but Seth Morgan's Homeboy runs it a close second. The only reason it misses out on the top spot is because so much of the book takes place outside prison.

Before the review starts though: a warning. If you like your novels to dive headlong into the sewers of human life and to wallow in vileness and desperation, with no action too foul for somebody to contemplate ... this is the book for you. If you really aren't strong-stomached, pass on Homeboy.

So, the book: Seth Morgan's only published novel. It's loosely based on his own life but takes everything to a degree almost unimaginable to those who haven't been there. It's the tale of Joe Speaker, a junkie who gets his cash by pimping out his beloved Kitty, by barking for a strip club, by dealing and by various ill-executed crimes.

More than that, it's the tale of a world barely seen by most of us and that only when we venture into a sordid sex deal or read a lurid headline. The rhythms of life and the rhythms of speech are unique to this shadow world and Morgan's writing, like Burgess's Clockwork Orange, creates that world in shades seen only in an acid trip or a Saturday night pool of vomit under a lamppost.

It's the junkies and the whores who belong in Morgan's world; straights blunder in to be fleeced and fooled. The one almost-honest policeman around is pursuing vengeance for the death of his daughter, a drug-addicted porn actress.

Looming over most of the vileness is Baby Jewels, the Fat Man, the Pimp Blimp (though not to his face lest his murderous enforcer Quick Cicero strike). Pimp, pornographer, snuff film-maker, he's seeking a jewel that has come into Joe's possession. Before he can lay hands on him Joe is in the pen. Coming off the heroin he enters into the parallel underworld of the prison, the dealing and the deals, the twisted male-only version of his life on the outside.

Unbeknownst to Joe, though, a killer is hunting him, a killer with power and a prison guard's uniform. There's a race between Joe's approaching killing and the policeman's hunt for the Fat Man, with a merry run of killings inside and outside the prison walls to colour the telling.

There's not an understated character in the book, not a sad person without a tale to tell, but there's little sense of self-pity about any of them. They live their lives doing what they have to, with moral codes that endure until the need for survival or the next fix becomes too great. It's a grim world with its own humour, but humour there definitely is. Your stomach may turn over a few times but you'll keep turning the pages.

You'll probably have to buy a secondhand copy - do not let that deter you.


Anonymous said...

March 2012. I just bought a secondhand copy of "Homeboy".Did not know a thing about Seth Morgan. I am totally 'addicted' to this wonderful novel. So sorry Morgan did/could not write more. Thank you for your review!
Paul Wolfswinkel, Amsterdam.

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