Sunday, 5 January 2014

Book Review - Jonathan Tulloch's The Season Ticket

Teenage friends Gerry and Sewell don't have much. They're not at school. They don't work. Their family lives are a mess. They barely have enough to eat, and spend most of their time chroming or smoking. All of which, according to then debut novelist Jonathan Tulloch, are not unusual circumstances to find yourself in when living in Gateshead, located across the River Tyne from Newcastle.

The one thing they seem to get any joy out of is supporting Newcastle United - the irony being though, that living below the poverty line as they do, Gerry and Sewell will probably never see a game in the flesh: Sewell hasn't been since he was a small child, and Gerry has never been at all. High prices and limited stadium capacities, a result of the English game being taken over by middle class interests, have forced out the working class from top flight football.

But Gerry has an idea - what if they gave up all their vices, and saved every penny for season tickets? Then they could go to every home match, in reserved seats, and drink their tea, and no one could do a thing about it. Thus the story moves on to detail the several daft schemes the boys come up with in order to earn enough money for season tickets.

Some of these attempts are quite funny, even as the reader can see the inevitability of the boys' failure. Starting off with an attempt to become scrap metal collectors, each scheme becomes more and more absurd. Some of these sections work well, most notably a social worker's attempt to bribe Gerry into attending two weeks of school, with the promise of two tickets to a cup match.

But others aren't so successful - an unintentional trip into the woods, and the boys' final scheme feel out of place and frankly, quite unbelievable. The novel also interrupts these comic sojourns with occasional 'hard-hitting' social realist chapters. Gerry's mother is sick, his sister Bridget is missing, and his father is a deadbeat alcoholic. Sewell's situation isn't much better.

While Tulloch's background can indicate an authenticity in his portrayal of Gateshead - he was a teacher there - too often it feels like he's overdoing it, making Gateshead seem like just about the worst place in the developed world. If there was some sort of nuance to his descriptions of the town and its social calamities, it'd lessen the sledgehammer effect a bit.

Like Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting (an obvious influence) there's also liberal use of dialect, in this case Geordie. I can't speak as to its authenticity, but for the most part there's no difficulty understanding the lingo, give or take a couple of words of local slang, mostly related to drug use.

Indeed, the entire novel feel like a case of Irvine Welsh lite. Not that there's anything wrong with that, and this book is still good enough to entertain in its own right. But it lacks the high level craft of Welsh's masterpiece; its playing with narrative reliability, its different voices and accents, and a city populated with several characters all of which add depth to the story.

A worthwhile comparison can also be made to Barry Hines' The Blinder, which we also reviewed on this blog, set 30 years previous to the events in The Season Ticket. There, the protagonist is both academically and physically talented, and his working class background, while an obstacle to his success, is nonetheless not an insurmountable one. Working class patrons can still attend matches with relative ease. Players are not removed from the lives of the communities they represent. In The Season Ticket, just about all of that has changed.

The Season Ticket isn't a masterpiece, and it's not up to the standard of Hines' excellent, though flawed debut - but having said that, if you do chance upon it in a secondhand book store or are wondering what to purchase next online when you do your book shopping, give this novel a go. Or you could just bypass it entirely, and watch the novel's film adaptation, Purely Belter.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review Paul.
    I haven't read the book myself, but I did see Purely Belter the film, which I thought was pretty terrible to be honest despite the obvious interesting content from my point of view. Goal the movie about the footballer who moves to Newcastle United from the USA was better in terms of showing off the scenery of Newcastle upon Tyne and actually used match footage from NUFC games, but the storyline again was nothing original or masterpiece like. In general sporting movies are pretty lame to be honest!


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