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England Is Mine by Nicolas Padamsee review – a searing indictment of factionalism

England Is Mine by Nicolas Padamsee review – a searing indictment of factionalism

Ever wondered what you’d do if your musical hero got cancelled? This crushing scenario is brought to life in an impressive first novel by Nicolas Padamsee (one of the Observer’s best 2024 debut novelists). A nuanced and remarkably assured exploration of Britishness, toxic masculinity and the pernicious pull of the far right, England Is Mine charts a rapid descent into extremism fuelled by fandom and disillusionment.

David, one of two main characters, is a teenager of Iranian heritage living in east London. A social outcast who struggles with his image (bullies at sixth form call him “Makeup Boy”), he finds refuge in the music of Karl Williams, an outspoken solo artist who, during a show in Leeds, makes an Islamophobic comment about Muslim children being withdrawn from a local primary school because of LGBTQ teaching. “Could it be that maybe, maybe, Islam isn’t 100% compatible with western values?” he goads the crowd. “You tell me.” While initially reticent, David feels that the public backlash against Williams is excessive. This position becomes more entrenched after David is assaulted by two young Muslims – one of whom he knows from college – setting him on a dark path that spirals towards catastrophe.

Padamsee tempers his depiction of radicalisation taking hold in a novel that is meticulously and sensitively paced. David’s story is interwoven with that of Hassan, a longtime member of a Muslim youth centre who is determined to get into his first-choice university. As David moves from playing Call of Duty online to frequenting neo-Nazi chatrooms, Hassan begins volunteering at his local mosque: “He remembers his career adviser saying that volunteering experience would help his Ucas application stand out.” The parallel lives of these two young men hang in the balance, converging in an act of racial hatred that is unthinkable but inevitable.

England Is Mine offers a searing indictment of the factionalism and marginalisation that grip 21st-century Britain.

England Is Mine by Nicolas Padamsee is published by Profile (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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Source: theguardian.com