Illegal and in love: Thirst
Scottish writer Kerry Hudson’s second novel vividly conveys the experience of illegal immigrants in London
Author Kerry Hudson. Photograph: Nick Tucker Author Kerry Hudson. Photograph: Nick Tucker
Chatto & Windus
Kerry Hudson is an Aberdonian whose antecedents are fishwives – and we know what kind of reputations they have. Her first book was called Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. A humane, humorous survival yarn, it was informed by the author’s working-class – underclass? – upbringing, a place where drugs and booze, effing and blinding and adaptable virtue were the way, and where George Bernard Shaw might have noted that middle-class morality was as unknown as mythical trickle-down wealth.
The title, as the author observed, was always going to be difficult to mention in any untruncated way on Twitter. And although her debut was deemed a marvel and won and was shortlisted for a bunch of awards, she solved the microblogging problem by going the other way and calling her new book, simply, Thirst.
In this story Hudson stays amid the struggling classes and realises an impressive emotional knowledge of a valid and genuine London. David is from the Roehampton estate, an underprivileged abscess on the soft, prosperous paunch of southwest London. This area was inspired by the grand ideals of the French architect Le Corbusier and was designed as a place where civilised commoners could be respectable in high-rise heaven away from the slums. It took a mere generation or so for the bottom to fall out of that concept.
Alena is from some terrible dump in Siberia, four days by train from Moscow. A supposed Soviet workers’ paradise, it is another wrecked experiment in social engineering, but one that Alena and David can share tacit knowledge of.
In a snooty Bond Street shop, a recovering alcoholic security guard, David, collars Alena half-inching hyperexpensive silver high-heels. This is the opening, but the tale swings backwards, forwards and sideways and becomes an exquisite, stimulating mash-up.
We’re swiftly acquainted with David and Alena’s befores and why-fors. We learn about their similarities – both single kids with doting mums and rotten dads – and we are wholly certain of their concentrated love.
A brilliant, enthralling saga, Thirst presents with such uncommon verisimilitude that scarcely a syllable appears contrived. The sourest of survival exigencies for an illegal immigrant in London are served up ungarnished.
There are no moralising punches to the gut, either, in regard to nasty deeds or in connection with the helplessness of poverty amid opulence. The hurt and guilt are confused but true, and awful decisions are made for pure reasons.
Also, the final fascinating chapters are a valuable, unusual travelogue of Russia.
As of this summer, Hudson is living and writing in Berlin. A novel from her pen set in that most fascinating of cities is an exciting prospect indeed.