Vauxhall is the debut novel by poet and playwright Gabriel Gbadamosi, and indeed one can hear the poetry in the structure of the novel as one reads. The story is told through the eyes of Michael, a young boy of Nigerian and Irish descent living in Vauxhall in the early 1970s, a very different Vauxhall to the one we know today. The council are beginning to clear out the slums so they can regenerate the area, but of course Michael does not know he lives in a slum, to him it is just his home. He lives in a house with his parents, older brothers and sister, and a whole host of other tenants, sixteen of them in the same building at one count. The toilet is outside and the roof is leaky. One memorable, chilling scene towards the end of the novel sees the children standing on their beds as a swarm of rats, escaping from the newly demolished houses next door, run through their room.
The novel is a slice of life, vignettes seen through Michael’s eyes. His life began before the novel started and will continue after its end, there is not a tidy summing up as one might traditionally expect. It is also very much a child’s view of the world, but written with the knowledge of an adult. As adults, readers can see more than Michael understands: the reason his white mother sometimes sends her black children on ahead of her when she goes shopping; why his sister makes a scene about not wanting to sit on the lap of a family friend; the fate of some of his peers. Although still at primary school at the close of the book, Michael has already begun to get into trouble, as his older brothers seem to be doing, and one hopes that he will not continue on that path.
I was gripped by this book and found it hard to put down. I look forward to seeing more from this author.