A Bad Decade for Good People – Joe Bedford’s debut novel to be published by Parthian in June 2023 – opens with an act of violence: ‘If the policeman’s baton had found Laurie half an inch lower she would be blind in one eye.’ The short prologue introduces the idea of juxtaposition, which I believe runs throughout the novel, both on a collective and individual level, for example: the police who maim and also protect; yearning to be seen by those we love, yet hiding from them. And how can we reconcile who we are with who others think we are?
Throughout the novel, nature plays a prominent role, from the ‘moon-shaped line of damage illuminated above [Laurie’s] eye’ to the various descriptions of Brighton – where a large proportion of the story is set – such as: ‘[the] shore stretches out in one long continuous line, unnaturally straight and unbroken but for the stone groynes that reach out from the shingle.’ The strong sense of place is reinforced by particular facts about the city an outsider is unlikely to know, for example the ‘tradition of leaving unwanted domestic goods out on the street – regardless of how broken they are, how difficult to move or how degradingly stained.’
George, the main character and Laurie’s younger brother, moves to Brighton to be closer to his sister, who lives there with her girlfriend. It is the summer of 2016. The summer of political turmoil: Brexit, David Cameron resigning, Theresa May becoming Prime Minister. Later in the year, Barack Obama is succeeded by Donald Trump. ‘It was all bad news or fake news or a combination of both.’ Laurie and her friends are heavily involved in the local political scene and tensions run high as the ‘decade get[s] darker and darker with no respite.’
This is also the year George meets Antonio, a Spanish naval engineer living in England with the hope of solving a family mystery from the past. It is through this central relationship that the novel continues to explore the themes mentioned above, as well as further themes of identity and belonging, both on a personal level and a communal one. How do we navigate a world not of our making, a world we no longer recognise?
In many ways, for many people, the 21st century has not been easy. Through Antonio’s quest, we are reminded that we are not the first generation dealing with political upheaval and national frictions. In an interview in TIME Magazine, Margaret Atwood states, ‘The moment when you give up hope, that is the moment when you cease to take any actions that might be positive to get out of the doom.’ On both a macro and micro level, A Bad Decade for Good People echoes Atwood’s sentiments. Exploring timeless themes as well as the tumult of current politics makes this book a must-read for our time.