Stick this book straight in with Walter Greenwood's classic Salford novel, Love On The Dole. Except that this beautifully depressing story, set in early 90s Salford, isn't so much about state repression and poverty, it's about state of mind, and poverty of opportunity on the streets, and in the pubs and towerblocks surrounding the Precinct.
The novel's anti-hero, Daniel Crabtree, is sure he's a top short story writer, which, in his head, sets him above and apart from those who populate the local area… "I consider myself a biographer of life" he tells his Uncle Billy.
And his `biography of life' isn't the kindest towards Salford people. The women? "More miserable than the buildings…I once dreamt that all the pretty girls were driven out of Pendleton by a piper in coloured clothes…Salford was a city endlessly caught on the final stroke of midnight, where a misplaced glass slipper lost in haste suggested an unseen beauty existed, but all that remained in its place were the much uglier sisters…"
And that's the nice bit. Meanwhile, Salford's streets are "tough, ruled by drug blazers, common thieves and mentalists. If you didn't act tough or crazy you could end up being beaten to a pulp, robbed or both…"
Daniel had been brought up by his mother and now-deceased father in Langworthy's Kara Street, where roast dinners were on tap - but had moved into a grotty flat in the Precinct towerblock to empathise with the greats of literature… "to understand their suffering, the despondency and madness that forged their words". He staves off hunger by eating flour and water, while his Giros go straight to pay off his slate at the local boozers.
He's certainly suffering. The only problem is that his one short story, Love Is A Gazelle, isn't exactly setting the world on fire. Even his mate at the Salford Gazette thinks it's crap. And his real life foray into perceived classy romance ends with a hugely symbolic kick in the balls on Salford Quays. He is trapped in the same psyche as everyone else in inner city, dole-ridden, 1991 Salford. But his mirror on local life barely extends to himself.
It's against this backdrop – and the real life settings of places like Churchill Way, Sycamore Court, the Woolpack, Agecroft Cemetery, Chimneypot Park, and The Flemish Weaver, complete with Hooky's mate, Twinny, in the bogs – that the story unfolds.
Asked by his mum to look after his cancer ridden, bitter brained Uncle Billy, Daniel meets hard-done-to schoolgirl Emma, who is also tending the old man. The wannabe author is convinced that he can fire Emma's life away from her Salford fate and that she, in turn, can be the muse, love partner and fate-firer he seeks. Except that she's under-age.
The crossroads are open but which way will Daniel go? Or will he just have another drink down The Flemish Weaver and screw it all?
In Craig Wallwork's The Sound Of Loneliness you can taste the pubs, chew the angst and wallow in the psyche of Salford circa early 90s. It's hyper real, staggeringly honest, very, very funny in places and, despite the shit-and-all content, dazzlingly written.
There's a bit of a modern, beer sodden, punch drunk Salford masterpiece going on here…
The Sound Of Loneliness
By Craig Wallwork
Perfect Edge Books £9.99 – or £7.59 currently on Amazon/£2.47 Kindle – click here
Review by Stephen Kingston