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Review of Pity by Andrew McMillan

Set in Barnsley, Pity tells the story of three generations of men and their relationship with the history of where they were born. We have brothers, Alex and Brian, both grappling with the loss of their father who was buried beneath the very land they walk across in a tragic mining accident. And then we have Simon, Alex’s son, who is paving his own way with a challenging new idea of masculinity and sexuality that both scares and emboldens his father. Alongside this, we have some visiting academics keen to interview the townsfolk about  their community.

These academics question our ideas of dominant narratives and news stories that come to represent certain places. Throughout it all, the characters are harking back to the miner’s strike and Thatcher’s Britain (with Simon even performing a drag show about it), whether it be trying to articulate their feelings about it or wondering if we have to articulate it at all. 

Canongate knew what they were doing when they sent this book over; a book set in my home county was bound to capture my heart but this was a really powerful and beautiful story of how the past continues to exist in the present - I particularly liked the nods to how ‘new’ infrastructure sits in an old town: “We ultimately conclude that after the physical change it takes time for the emotional faculties to catch up. McDonald’s no longer exists in that spot, and yet, because we continue to name it, it does.” The same can literally be said of my home town. As McMillan’s first fiction (he has previously published poetry), this is an authentic and poignant exploration of social class and post-industrial legacy that I read in one sitting and absolutely loved. Think Shuggie Bain for South Yorkshire. This is exactly the type of story I want to see more of.

Reviewed by Abi.

Pity was published on 08/02/24 by Canongate.

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