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Saturday 29 March 2008

The Unnumbered

By Sam North

In this novel, Sam North has created an extraordinary sense of place. I only know the part of London in which it is set slightly, but nonetheless I could picture it vividly as I read.

I particularly liked the imagery used. Muswell Hill is described as ‘a pregnant mound sticking out of North London, growing whole families who fed off its good state schools, its flats and houses with gardens, its cleaner air’.

‘The Unnumbered’ is an emotive and honest look at some potentially contentious issues around immigration. The characters aren’t always likeable, but they are always interesting and by making them unlikeable, Sam North has made them very real.
Among the flawed but fascinating characters are fifteen year old Mila, who desperately tries to use sex to get her own way but finds that it is, in the end, her undoing; and the horribly sinister Lucas Tooth.

By setting the novel in the communities of displaced people, North has opened up a new and perplexing world and let the reader in. He uses the trick of retelling a scene more than once from different viewpoints in order to accentuate the issue of language barriers and to put the spotlight on different perceptions of the same situation.

There is a very uncomfortable subplot involving middle class student Anjali, and her descent into despair. For me, this story didn’t work quite as well as the rest of the novel – it felt a little forced as though the character had been introduced solely to show another aspect of alienation – but it did provide one of the novel’s most interesting surprises.

‘The Unnumbered’ is not a comfortable read, but ultimately it is a very rewarding one.

‘The Unnumbered’ was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2004.

reviewed by Helen M. Hunt


Karen said...

Is this the same Sam North who wrote The Old Country? It sounds very different in tone, but I'll definitely give it a go!

HelenMWalters said...

Hi Karen

Yes, it is the same person. I haven't read The Old Country so I don't know how they compare. Would be interesting to hear what you think if you do read it.

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

Sounds an intriguing read. I love the name Lucas Tooth, so unusual.