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[Interviews] Guy Gunaratne: ‘In London, you learn to code-switch... I’ve always thought of that as a superpower’.

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Post time: 29-6-2019 10:44:50 Posted From Mobile Phone
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Examining race, class and Lee Rigby’s murder, Guy Gunaratne’s debut novel won last month’s Dylan Thomas prize. He talks about rebellion and leaving the UK.
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‘Any time at my desk feels like a gift’ … Guy Gunaratne Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer
▼ When Guy Gunaratnewas a teenager he would catch the bus home from school in north-west London, listening out for the chat of his fellow passengers. “Like this one kid who said to his friend, ‘Come on, you’re moving like molasses.’ That rattled in my head for so long. It’s soinside,” he says. “London can be an unkind place to live and grow up in, but I just love the way we spoke, and to make something out of where you’re from, loving the kind of things people usually forget or dismiss, is a thrilling experience.”
Gunaratne’s debut novel, In Our  Mad and Furious City,was longlisted for last year’s Man Booker prize and shortlisted for a string of others before winning the Jhalak prizeand the International Dylan Thomas  awardfor writers under 40 last month. The Dylan Thomas jury described it as astounding, provocative and enticing, but not an easy read. “People bring their own baggage to my baggage and that’s good,” responds the author, who packed his novel with things people would prefer to dismiss or forget, not least the murder of off-duty soldier Lee  Rigby, who was hacked to death in broad daylight in a south London street in 2013.
A lightly fictionalised version of the murder opens the novel, and is all the more shocking for the reaction it provokes on the street. “The black younger had stopped soldier-boy and struck him down with a cleaver,” we are told. “He called himself the hand of Allah but to us he looked as if he had just rolled out the same school gates as us. He had the same trainers we wore. Spoke the same road slang we used. The blood was not what shocked us. For us it was his face like a mirror, reflecting our own confused and frightened thoughts.”
Most of the novel is written in a pungent first-person patois, which the author calls “road dialect” (while conceding that it’s officially known as Multicultural London English or MLE). But this opening rings out like an omniscient chorus. So how closely does it reflect his own feelings? Gunaratne was in Finland when the news of the murder broke but watched the endlessly repeated film footage. “The thing that shocked me was one of the killers: the way he expressed himself really did remind me of the kind of people I grew up with. There was a perverse identification which disturbed me to the extent that I knew it was something I needed to navigate for myself.”
There’s a ferocious energy in the language of the novel that is reminiscent of James Kelman’sHow Late It Was, How Lateor even Anthony Burgess’sA Clockwork Orange, and seems always on the point of combusting. It pushes at convention: Gunaratne’s “ennet?”, for instance, stands in for the ubiquitous “innit?”. But its heightened particularity, what Gunaratne calls “insideness”, seems a million miles from the softly spoken 35-year-old man sitting opposite me, who talks delicately and carefully, unafraid to let silences bloom as he picks his way through his thoughts.
He wouldn’t talk like this to his old schoolfriends, he points out. “But publishing is pretty middle class and I’ve had to accommodate. In London, you learn to code-switch quite well and I’ve always thought of that as a superpower in a way. You’re able to express yourself with different vocabulary in different situations, not through any pretence but because the way you express yourself matters, and your social condition is inherited through your inheritance of dialect.”
Gunaratne was born in 1984 into a Sri Lankan family in the London borough of Neasden, where the novel is set. His father had arrived at 16, speaking little English, and worked his way up to a clerical job at the Sri Lankan high commission. His mother started on a supermarket check-out desk before moving to the cash office at Ikea. (▪ ▪ ▪)

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Rhett_Bassard + 5 Thnx for taking the time to suggest this cultural experience.

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Post time: 30-6-2019 04:59:27
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You make it too easy for other Craxers to Google this author/title and upload it here.

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Pedro_P + 55 Excellent! Nice contribution... Thanks for sharing it.

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