According to Neon magazine, Yorkshire author Jones Jones’s book Riot is ‘based very loosely on the London riots that happened several years ago’ but it’s hard to see this topicality in the book itself. This Salt title is told from the point of view of Mark Jones, an eighteen year old downtown college student jaded, fighting and fucking in recession-era Cardiff. This is a short, chapter-less piece of prose and it has some weaknesses of the rant – too many characters introduced at once, the characters aren’t distinct enough and it’s hard to tell whether one voice or many voices are speaking. Jones relies on the viscerality of his voice to get through.
And that’s the voice. ‘Viv shagged her against the side of her mam and dad’s house in Nant Glyn a few Saturdays ago after a night out down Royal’s. Even worse, first off he fingered her in front of fuck knows how many when they were still in the club.’ ‘We’re down the Maelor again and it kicks off with Jamie’s feet slapping the pavement down the Plas Gwyn road towards the corner by The Star.’ ‘Like the time I saw Jonni Rich drop Puddin down by Royal’s bridge, then kick his hands away so that Puddin’s head hit the curb. The dull thud of it. I spewed five pints’ worth. When the war cry goes up – fight, fight, fight – and every fucker swarms, I walk the other way feeling my stomach’s about to drop out my arse.’ People look down on working class writing partly because it’s so visceral like this. Blood, shit, semen, saliva, fresh deodorant, sugary high-strength bar shots, purple tins, cigarettes, MDMA, butane, ketamine, fresh meat, boiled vegetables – the smell of crappy FE colleges, zero-hours contracts and the kind of town that only has the very old and the very young. The Welsh language touches are nice – ‘And here comes the Welcome to England sign. We give it the twll din pob sais like we always do’ – but they also stand out because of the sense that this could be any town. Any kind of prison for the poor.
But Riot’s real subject is a familiar one for the millennial generation – hopelessness. The futility of sliding towards a world run by and for the ageing and dying, that needs new blood and young workers but for some reason chooses to let itself drown in an exclusionary irrelevance. Young people aren’t demonstrably less well behaved or less aspirational than they were twenty or fifty years ago – these days, whenever I meet people in the 18-25 age group, I’m always struck by how articulate and clued up they are – but the world has changed and there is less and less room for those coming up. Jones takes a summer job in a bottling factory and quits not because he can’t handle the work but because of the terror: ‘I’ll never leave Cardiff. Too scared to leave even if I get the chance. It’s ten times as bad as college in here. Because all this lot are men. Grown men. I thought as you got older, things changed. But there’s 30 year-old versions of Bottomly and Fergusson over there.’ When Jones’s father founds out that he has walked, the old man rages: ‘I’ve worked nearly 20 years in that shithole on the Plas Gwyn Road and I’ve probably got another 20 to go… Two minutes you’ve been there, lad. Two minutes. You make me bloody sick, you do.’
‘Breakdown in law and order, my arse. It’s just human nature. A small split second decision that means fuck all. Not some pre-meditated attack upon the establishment or the moral fibre of modern day Britain.’ That’s the only passage in Riot that addresses the 2011 riots directly. The youth boredom explanation for these eruptions was always facile – no one ever rioted for want of a ping pong table. But as Irvine Welsh said (and Jones shows) in economic hard times, when you get large numbers of ‘people who were basically stuck in a house with nothing to do all day long’ – then a powderkeg inevitably builds.