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Only Here, Only Now by Tom Newlands review – visceral coming-of-age tale

Only Here, Only Now by Tom Newlands review – visceral coming-of-age tale

Tom Newlands may make several prize lists for his stunning debut, a portrait of a teenager with undiagnosed ADHD in a working-class, post-industrial community in Scotland. Newlands, who is himself neurodivergent, says he opted for a female perspective because he “wanted to tell the story of a young girl at odds with this male environment”.

Only Here, Only Now begins in 1994. Fourteen-year-old Cora lives with her mum on a council estate in Muircross, a fictional seaside town in Fife, and dreams of carving out a life for herself in Glasgow. When her mother brings home a new boyfriend, one-eyed Gunner, he changes the family dynamic. We follow Cora over the next four years, her struggles at school and uneasy relationship with her “stepda”. Newlands’s impulsive, bold protagonist, who dreams big despite having very little, is richly layered, and he conveys her disorientation as she tries to make sense of her actions.

This sprawling coming-of-age tale explores poverty, belonging, grief and rage, and Newlands writes with such visceral energy that his book, though bleak, is hard to put down. His description of Muircross, for instance, introduces us to Cora’s distinctive voice and places her in the landscape: “It was a manky wee hellhole sat out by itself on a lump of coast the shape of a chicken nugget, surrounded by pylons and filled with moonhowlers and old folk and seagulls the size of ironing boards that shat over everything. Chaos and fighting and shite in your fringe. That was Muircross.”

Cora’s hyperactivity is captured in equally vivid prose (“There was a tingling round my skull. Techno in my ribcage”), while the liberal use of vernacular – “greeting”, “a beamer”, “boke” – immerses us in her world. But what impresses most is the author’s compassion for his flawed characters. There’s humour as well as love, hope and resilience amidst the ugliness in this accomplished novel.

Source: theguardian.com