BOOK REVIEW: PURE PRESSURE
Written by Louis Julienne, this book is a powerful debut novel. Witty yet serious, tragic and joyous, suspenseful and always informative, it manages to combine a broad brush on a centuries-old inner-city community with telling details of individuals that mark the arrival of a new talent to urban fiction.
Pure Pressure is the story of Lizzie Leung the widowed matriarch of an extended family at a key moment in her life. Set at the time of the 1981 ‘Toxteth Riots’, the story is largely confined to a few weeks during that sultry summer of 1981 that made headlines throughout the world. Although the story is rooted in 1981 and beyond, flashes of the past illuminate the narrative. Lizzie’s description of her wedding in the middle of the 1930s depression is a sumptuous and evocative case in point.
Julienne explores themes of identity with aplomb given the multi-ethnic cast. Lenny, Lizzie’s unconventional brother, advises his nephew, “you should call yourself double ethnic, instead of half-cast, it’s a lot more positive; you’re two instead of half.”Some humorous vignettes and Julienne’s affection for his characters lighten the relentless pressure – violence, death, revenge.
I recommend this book to anyone who likes their fiction informative as well as entertaining; Julienne has sketched characters who will stay long in your memory. Ambitious Beryl who went to live in America to discover herself as a black woman, returning to Liverpool fleeing a shattered American Dream. Alan, the local government manager who cannot escape his past. Middle-aged Paul, Lizzie’s eldest child, who lives by the sword and dies by the sword. Googie, her youngest, the tragic Rastafarian. Lenny, Lizzie’s self destructive philosopher-Lothario brother. Even secondary figures outside the family are memorably drawn, including feisty Maureen Ajayi, the community activist turned politician who shares a dark secret.
The tension is frequently relieved by mordant wit and laugh aloud moments.
Each chapter has a life of its own, providing insightful vignettes of Liverpool’s multicultural and multi ethnic community and glimpses into its history. This separateness is emphasised by naming and relating each chapter to a Bob Marley title song. High tide low tide, for example, contrasts the joys of a family reunion with the threat of awful things to come. Guiltiness and Redemption expose the powerlessness of revenge. In So much things to say and Pass it on, old Nigerian Nat Ajayi urges his white looking grandson to look to his African ancestry for inspiration. Burnin and Lootin provides a perspective of the uprisings ignored by the media. Fancy curls, where a forbidden love affair develops and blossoms and a busy hairdressing salon is illuminated by its clientele.
Part 2 of the novel takes place ten years later in 1991. The aftermath of the 1981 events still resonates; the politicisation of activists starts to bear fruit. The novel retains a slight, ambiguous air of magic, of other-worldliness that crystallises in the final chapter.
Julienne has managed through fiction to bring some light to a seldom shown perspective of urban conflicts. A major achievement from a major new talent.
Louis was awarded the Merseyside Black History Month’s Black Achievers Award for Arts in 2012 for writing Pure Pressure.