Meet the rudeboys. A rough young bunch of wannabe thugs obsessed with owning the latest cell-phones, tricked-out cars, baggy jeans, and built-up bodies.
Narrated from the point of view of Jas, the wannabe-rudeboy, who never feels accepted by his tougher, dumber peers, Londonstani is the story of a group of young “Pakis, Rajamuffins, Britasians, and Desis” – members of the Sikh, Muslim and Hindu community of Hounslow, London, and is told in the fractured patois of the London street scene – a mixture of slang, text message abbreviation, and vernacular English.
The book details the exploits of a group of these delinquents as they cruise the streets in their boy-racer cars: looking for girls, starting fights, receiving stolen cell-phones, and picking up eggs, milk and scented toilet paper for their demanding mothers. After a particularly nasty fight a former teacher in the hopes that he will be a positive role model introduces them to a businessman, Sanjay. Needless to say, Sanjay is no longer a straight businessman, but is definitely in the business, man, and he immediately cuts them a deal into one of his scams.
Everyone gets rich quick, and buys even cooler phones, baggier jeans and crappier hip-hop CD’s.
Considering the number of times Jas references Reservoir Dogs, it’s hard to understand why he is so surprised when everything goes sour, the shit hits the fan, and he is left in a sticky situation, facing a difficult moral choice. Oh, and there’s a “shocking” last minute revelation.
Londonstani is Gautam Malkani’s first novel, and while it has some great moments – the vicious fight scene narrated using cricketing jargon is a hilarious highlight – overall the book is too meek to be truly enjoyable. Comparisons with Irvine Welsh are tempting due to the use of the vernacular language, but where Welsh is a voice of shocking yet realistic depravity, Malkani’s story is too PG-rated to provide anything other than mild amusement. Large portions of the book seem devoted to the explication of Sanjay’s theory of “bling economics” (Malkani is a journalist for Financial Times) and various characters’ political views. While these are interesting in themselves, they do little to contribute to the story, and are hardly original enough to warrant the time spent on them.
Of course it is unlikely that Malkani’s intent was to shock and awe his audience ala Welsh, Selby Junior, Easton Ellis et al, but when the alternative is boredom, I would prefer the blitzkrieg of Last Exit to Brooklyn or Acid House than an economics lecture, no matter how amusingly delivered.