Veerapen Prendrapen – half Jewish, half Tamil – is the fastest runner in his school; at 15 he is a highly promising athlete, perhaps Olympic material. He lives in Surrey where, as he says, nothing bad ever happens. However, Veerapen has just attended the funeral of Moon Suzuki, the love of his live. Graffiti My Soul takes us through several weeks of Veerapen’s life, shuttling skilfully between events before and after Moon’s death. Niven Govinden peels back the affluent surface of life in the suburbs, to reveal the dark, disturbing reality of existence as a young person in 21st-century Britain.
This is a world where violence, random and motiveless, is accepted as routine and gangs and groups form and re-form, stratified by age, ethnicity and vague, half-understood alliances. Consumerism is rampant but in a mechanical, joyless way: ‘We parade our purchases 365. What would be the point of buying them otherwise?’
Social norms of behaviour have become challenges to be vanquished and language has degraded into a shorthand of signifiers – ‘Simple as…’, ‘End of…’ and the ubiquitous ‘Whatever…’. There is, of course, mutual incomprehension between Veerapen’s teenage world and that of the really old – ‘like 35!’ – people. Conversations, rather than being communication, are the perimeter fences, keeping each in their allotted territory.
There is honesty and insight in Niven Govinden’s writing, if little to cheer the terminally optimistic. Graffiti My Soul is a pinpoint accurate portrait of disaffected youth and the society that has formed them. It is as shocking as a happy-slapping and as uplifting as a Coldplay concert.Peter Whittaker