Friday 28 July 2017

Review: Fiction: The Kid by Sapphire

Hamish Hamilton, £12.99

When Precious stormed the big screen in 2009 it was billed as "funny and inspirational", a story with a main character "you'll fall in love with".

Sadly for readers, the same can't be said for The Kid, the new book by Sapphire, the author who brought us Precious's story 15 years ago. (Her real name is Ramona Lofton but she uses the pen name Sapphire because of its association with the image of a "belligerent black woman".)

When we met Precious in the film, and in the first book Push, on which the film was based, she was a 16-year-old about to give birth to her second child by her father, trapped by poverty, illiteracy and an abusive mother.

Throughout the gritty and often hard-to-watch story, she remained likeable; we wanted her to win.

Now in The Kid, we meet her nine-year-old son Abdul on the day of his mother's funeral; Precious has died of Aids at 27.

At first, he is endearing and the story seems to have the same winning qualities Precious did; our heart goes out to Abdul, who we care about all the more because he's her son.

Quickly, though, things degenerate. Barely a quarter way into the book, Abdul ends up at a Catholic boys' home and we see his 13-year-old self abusing one of the other boys in his dorm.

Later we learn, through flashbacks, that the brothers there abused Abdul. But I struggle to care about the central character or feel any empathy for him.

A while later, when he abuses a five-year-old in the smaller children's dorm, my revulsion grows. By now, Abdul is doing dance classes and finding himself, but I don't care whether he "makes it" because to me he has become something despicable.

After he's ejected from the boys' school, Abdul's isolation from the reader increases even more when he goes to live with his great-grandmother and thinks of her as "that bitch".

At times the reader is drawn back to him as he struggles with his expulsion and with other painful encounters that meant he never really had a chance.

But the child-abuser gulf is a tough one to bridge and remains so throughout the book, which is littered with graphic descriptions of sexual acts that act as constant reminders.

The situation isn't helped by the style of writing -- the prose is often powerful and raw and poignant, but has an annoying tendency to mash dreams and reality together, leaving the reader generally confused.

The ending is just as confusing. In the movie of the first book, Precious walked off into the sunset with her two children at the end, heading, we hoped, for a better life.

In this book, Abdul is set free from a mental institution and goes back to God knows what. By then, though, I really didn't care.

Laura Noonan

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