“I had to have a shower after I read it,” Lemn Sissay, a poet and Booker Prize judge, said in a telephone interview. “I never heard this world spoken in this way before,” he added. “It’s not trying to give excuses, it’s not trying to contextualize the underclass, it’s saying, ‘This is what it is.’”
“When you read these worlds in books, it’s normally by a middle-class writer who creates a one-dimensional villain,” Douglas Stuart, who won last year’s Booker for “Shuggie Bain,” his debut novel about working-class life, said in a phone interview, “but Gabriel’s created a world so rich in detail, and motivation and consequence.”
Krauze insisted the book is far more than a lurid tale. “It’s a moral confrontation with the reader,” he said, claiming it forces readers to realize some people commit crime because of their psychology, as well as poverty or a lack of opportunity.
The author’s note in some editions of the book is clearer still. “This is the life I chose,” he writes. “Maybe I was looking for a sense of family and identity that I couldn’t find at home. Maybe it’s the way I found my people and they found me.”
Krauze was born in northwest London to a newspaper cartoonist and a painter who had both immigrated from Poland. He grew up around the corner from the South Kilburn estate, in an apartment where his twin brother practiced violin for hours a day. He became obsessed with books as a child, devouring everything from Tolkien to nonfiction about World War I, and realized he wanted to become a writer by the time he was 13.
That same year, he also threatened someone with a knife for the first time, and saw his first stabbing. “I was in a youth club, and someone right next to me just got poked up, blood all over the floor, boom, boom, boom,” he said.