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Stephen Thompson's brave story centres on the plight of Gabriel Powers, a man who finds himself in a hostel for addicts after the most frightening flight from Hackney and the world of crime he grew up in. For Gabriel to come to terms with his addiction, he must first confront his demons, and although his hostel worker and lover Marcia is there to help him, the journey to back to the wastelands of West London is harrowingly and brilliantly recreated. Painful, acutely honest and based on the author's own experiences, Toy Soldiers is a fine and brave debut by a brilliant new voice.
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Hanif Kureishi (The Buddha of Suburbia, The Black Album) has described Toy Soldiers as "painfully honest and deeply affecting". Certainly, Thompson's first novel--a mix of reportage and personal narrative--gains from his background in journalism; this is an exposé of a life lived out on the edge of crime, drugs and friendship.
The epigraph from Albert Camus--"The aim is to live lucidly in a world where dispersion is the rule"--strikes the tone of a novel which struggles to portray the existentialist grief, and rebellion, of Gabriel, a young black man who, at the very beginning of the book, is looking for "a refuge, a sanctuary, a place to save himself from himself". He finds that refuge in a Notting Hill drug rehab centre and the very contemporary experience, at once prosaic and poetic, of communal, therapeutic living. It's an experience which drives Gabriel to write; Part Two of Toy Soldiers shifts to a first-person narrative as Gabriel uncovers his history from schooldays to drug days, from petty crime to the "Short Sharp Shock" of youth detention to the perils of dealing on the streets of Hackney. His subject matter may be potentially explosive but Thompson's prose is measured, distanced; it tells a history: "Before long, they'd colonised a corner of the snooker hall. Yardie corner, we called it. I have to admit I found it fascinating to watch them." Watching, Thompson let's his readers watch too--and remain curiously dispassionate about Gabriel's fate, the cure by love which this novel seems to hold out as one version of the sanctuary, and the change, for which it is seeking. --Vicky LebeauReview:
'Assured, speedy and tersely convincing. His characters are effectively drawn without fuss or sentiment, and he contrives to paint a picture of a desperate world that is both honest and convincing' Eldon King, Observer
A compelling, urban tale. Gritty, yet filled with inspired prose... (Courttia Newland)
'Thompson's compelling tale of the rise, fall and return to normality of a London crack addict called Gabriel is satisfying, unsentimental and fiercely honest ... Thompson's description of life on the front-line is eye-opening. He reveals Gabriel as a troubled man who knows there is something beyond the thug's life, yet despairs of finding it' Steve Jelbert, The Times
Beautifully written, painfully honest and deeply affecting. Stephen Thompson's debut novel is terrific (Hanif Kureshi)
A sensitive, subtle and fascinating account of a young black man's fight against crack addiction...Thompson's writing is compelling (The Times)
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