Paroled as a teenager from a northern jail after serving five years for a shocking crime commited as a boy, John John is still a prisoner.
A Gypsy trapped in a sink-estate flat, he’s an honest man hemmed-in by crime and dragged down by criminals.
A loner who seeks friendship, love and fulfilment, he’s betrayed and exploited at every turn. Above all else he’s a prisoner of the legacy of his brutal father Mac Wisdom, bareknuckle King of the Gypsies.
John John longs to escape this physical and emotional wasteland. His desire is to escape to his “green cathedral” of nature and the woods and heaths that are the natural home of the travelling man.
Only there can he be truly free and his terrible psychic wounds be healed. But for now he’s an ice-cream man, pressured to sell drugs on his rounds, lured into cobblestone prize fights by former cronies of his father, betrayed by his girlfriend, and hounded by estate thugs with a sinister racist agenda.
The pressure builds and John John’s life unravels in a finale of shocking violence.
Benjamin Myers’s influences are clear — David Peace’s northern brutalism is evident and there are suggestions of Salinger and Golding but Pig Iron’s savage vision is his alone.
Pig Iron is an utterly compelling book because the twin desolations of blighted sink estate culture and the emotional alienation of the main character are evoked unrelentingly and the grim conclusion is almost inevitable.
Yet in the “green cathedral” there is the potential for redemption, if not for the damned of the sink estates, then for half-conscious seekers like John John, intuitively returning to his roots in search of healing and an authentic future.
Review by Steve Ely
Review at the Morning Star