Muscle and Mouth, by Louise Finnigan, is one of a series of short-story books from Manchester’s Fly on the Wall Press. Jade, the narrator, speaks out of a life transition familiar to generations of working-class adolescents.
You have discovered you are good at those things school wants from you. You realise that opportunities are opening up for a more exciting life than you, or your family, or your friends have been used to. Then comes recognition of the price demanded: you are expected to switch allegiance, to free yourself from the inferior habits and values of those from among whom you will be allowed to ascend. You feel the anger, the nascent determination to demonstrate that you can clear all the hurdles set in front of you and still you will not betray old loyalties. You struggle with the lingering acknowledgment that there will be loss and that, although you could turn back, you will not.
The steel core of the story and the key to its intense sense of authenticity lie in Finnigan’s command of the various discourses that she deploys. Domestic exchanges between daughter and mother, constrained interactions with an evaluating teacher, ironic banter with peer-group members who Jade is about to record and offer up as data in her A-Level assignment, data which she then dispassionately analyses with appropriate use of academic terminology and reference to the sociolinguistic literature. All of these are convincingly enclosed in a narrative scarred by eye-wincing violence and illuminated by a poetic sensitivity that takes in the superficial ‘wafting smells of chip-pan and spliff’ as well as the deep sense of an underappreciated land ‘dark with energy’ that ‘throbs through us when we shout or laugh or fuck.’
I feel not only spoken to, but also spoken for. With admiration and thanks.