“White Trash,” fiction by John King, 2001, with new introduction, 2016
King specializes in tracking the lives or working class people in England, similar to what Ken Loach does in film, except perhaps in a rougher way. This book was written to defend the National Health System – NHS – a great gain of the British labor movement which is now under attack. King is not explicitly political but his themes of class conflict are present here in spades.
The basic plot is that a perfectionist technocrat, Mr. Jeffreys, is put in charge of a large NHS hospital. We only later discover this ostensibly ‘kind’ man is really a cruel proto-fascist. King compares him to the attitude of a happy-go-lucky working class nurse, Ruby, who is the counter to Jeffreys, who is the heroine of this book. Ruby works in the hospital doing the work of what looks like a nurse’s aide, not a nurse. Which made me think that perhaps King does not have much familiarity with actual nurse’s work. King also describes the lives of 4 working class people that mysteriously die while in this hospital. One of the patients who dies is a taxi driver who looks like a ‘thug’ but loves his family and takes good care of them; another is an old man who was a leftist union activist; another, a working-class lesbian; a fourth, working-class gay man. All seem to share the aspect of being rejects from polite society. Their deaths would seem to impact the ‘death’ statistics of any hospital’s records, and would attract suspicion.
King’s themes of being against police, making fun of middle-class people and their habits and defending the British working class ‘yobs, hooligans, thugs, chavs, cockneys, scousers, spivs, bumpkins, cider-drinkers’ are all here. The book contains well-written lyrical, almost poetic passages. And the book also veers into melodrama and schmaltzy sacchariness at times in its attempt to portray these folks in a bright light, especially in long italicized sentences that run on for paragraphs. The book even has a happy ending…!
King is one of the few authors mining this field of writing, coming out of a history of anarchist politics and music in England, and is a welcome respite from middle-class fiction.
Prior book by King reviewed: “Football Factory.” Also non-fiction books on elite disdain for the British and U.S. working class, ‘Chavs’ and “White Trash,” both reviewed below. Use blog search box, upper left.
And I bought it at Mayday Books!