Review of 'Skint Estate' by Cash Carraway

I don't really know what a disclaimer is. I think you are meant to put this bland signifier of broadsheety zeitgeist first and then make some admission you know the person whose work you are writing about. Disclaimer. I do not know Cash Carraway. Disclaimer. I grew up on the same streets as her and am inclined to liking anyone from those streets who attempts to steal a voice for themselves (since no one gifts influence to the denizens of Maple Road and its immediate environs). Disclaimer. I have the same harsh and aggressive Penge accent as Carraway: an accent she describes as being at the root of not being taken seriously, the wrong accent for politics, the wrong accent for anything other than the boxing gym, the football terrace, the food bank, the (discontinued) dole queue.

Carraway is a skint single mum originally from a Penge estate with dreams (or ‘pretensions’ as more middle-class commentators might have it) of escaping her life of crucifying broke-ness though her talent as a writer. It’s a talent she’s unsure of. She enjoys Camus and Bukowski, but her life is far removed from the realms in which the secure middle-class students might waste summer days contemplating the fake bohemian fantasy of living briefly down-and-out in romanticised places: hers is a brutish day-to-day struggle trying to piece together enough money to fail to afford extortionate private rents on mildewed hovels so that both Carraway and her profoundly loved daughter can afford a roof and little else – pasta and sugar for breakfast, pasta and salt for tea. She is authenticity personified and her voice when detailing these struggles rings strong, sometimes poetic, genuinely hilarious, rightly angry and very true indeed.

It is certainly the best book that I have read this year – her verbal facility, for me, is infinitely more meaningful than the fey, measured impotence of tone and the wafery pseudo profundity found in the more ‘serious’ writers endorsed by middle-class channels in which nothing important is said in suggestively portentous tones; it is perhaps the best book I have read for quite a few years and stands above Bukowski in many ways. Whereas Bukowski documents a romanticised version of pitiful lowlife through the bottom of a rarely empty glass, Carraway attends AA meetings, works all hours and comes across, whilst sometimes understandably screwball given all that has happened to her, as a loving mother, a (just about) tough (enough) hombre and a political voice of quality and some depth.

The reception from the press, as ever with working class writers, comes with a perfunctory note of grudging condescension attached. One review, whilst positive, points to her as a “dramatist”. It is a back handed compliment that, while seemingly endorsing the work, also points out that she is somehow out of place, somehow inauthentic, somehow speaking in the wrong language. In reality, the drama in Carraway’s story, while brilliantly told, and while possessing of a mustard keen eye for how to land a punch line, comes from the Senecan tragedy of being at the bottom end of the order and therefore in receipt of every single one of the bigotries and injustices ten years of ruling class punishments have landed in the faces of the most vulnerable.

Educators could gain a lot from reading ‘Skint Estate’. Not the least being an insight into how, in the current climate, even the most loving of mothers can find themselves, though no real fault of their own, in a situation where their child’s basic needs (aside from that for love) are barely met. These kids appear at the school gates every morning. They require our understanding and reading this book will make you a more empathetic teacher.

‘Skint Estate’ manages the balancing act of being acutely readable while also landing well aimed blows of fiercely articulated analysis of what the real impact of government policy towards the most vulnerable in society is. It is consistently lively, brutally entertaining, and, from my own residence at the lower middle class side of the High street, I’d express a wish that Carraway’s is a long career shaking things up and telling the truth. She is, I think, a vital spokesman and her accent, her voice, her language is exactly the right voice for politics as it is a voice of integrity, a voice that will never be co-opted by forces that have placed her at the bottom of things and suggest she be grateful for this position. She is without doubt the finest writer ever to come from the wrong side of that particular south London high street.

Added Wed, 18 Sep 2019 10:18

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