Richard Milward: Apples

Although reading Richard Milward’s paean to Spacemen 3 in Loops didn’t inspire me to reappraise their music (I still think they had a better way with a title than with a tune: witness Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To), it did prompt me to check out some of his other work. To be precise, his first novel, Apples (Faber, 2007). Some slightly breathless press coverage had led me to expect great charm, wit and maturity from Milward’s prose, and to a certain extent it delivers, but this is not quite the dazzling literary escapade one might have hoped to be presented with: it’s certainly no Wasp Factory or Cement Garden. This is perhaps a slightly unfair assessment, not least because of the authors’ respective ages: Banks was 30 when he first hit the shelves, McEwan a slightly sprightlier 27. Milward, by comparison, is even now a mere stripling of 25.

This faint sense of dissatisfaction may in part spring from the book’s central cast of feckless teenagers, centring on Adam and Eve (you see what he did there?), respectively a geeky young lad with a penchant for 60s music and a mild case of OCD; and one of the school’s resident fit lasses, usually out and on the pull (and the pills). Indeed, with all the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll it’s like a story arc from a northern Skins (albeit with fewer ‘cool’ tunes).

Factor in Milward’s youth, and things make a little more sense: this comes across as a teen novel, a milieu he had left behind only a few years previously, and which he portrays convincingly. In this context, the book is far more successful, and bears comparison with Niven Govinden’s Graffiti My Soul (Canongate, 2007). Milward is to be considered lucky that media attention has been more effusive in recent years, rather than casting its shadow over his career from the outset. Such pre-emptive excitement tends merely to blight a writer’s career, as happened with Guatam Malkani, whose first novel, Londonstani, was brought out to great fanfare by Fourth Estate, the blaze of publicity obscuring the fact that the novel was essentially an oversold teen novel that by rights had little place on an adult list.

On the basis of this and the aforementioned press soufflé, Milward’s recently released Ten Storey Love Song is not too exciting a prospect. In all likelihood, this has less to do with the much-vaunted, single paragraph structure than with Milward’s baffling decision to name the novel after one of the Stone Roses’ worst songs. Let’s hope that the similarity in nomenclature doesn’t condemn the book to being an over-hyped disappointment.

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