Wednesday, 29 February 2012
iBoy - Kevin Brooks
Kevin Brooks finds the overlap between the human and the not-human a fertile breeding ground in more than one of his novels. While Being is in many senses more disturbing an exploration of this than iBoy in philosophical terms, iBoy is an intelligent mix of technology with profound questions about what it means to be human, centring on the ethics of violence. And Brooks isn’t afraid to tackle some pretty grim stuff about what human beings are capable of doing to other people. The story (as you might guess from the title) ties in to the contemporary technology of smart phones very effectively, pushing the relationship between the human and technology - not least the vast wealth of information on the internet - to new levels.
A fairly common “local boy trying to save his best friend / girl friend” theme does form a core focus of the story in iBoy, but that’s where any idea of the story having been done before ends. Something truly terrible has occurred, and Tom Harvey arrives in time for an extraordinary meeting with an iPhone, and this meeting takes Tom and the story into a sci-fi thriller territory which combines a kind of graphic novel superhero with gritty urban realism, the whole thing carried by a story which never lets moral and philosophical questions slip out of it for long.
Brookes explores the relationship between the human and technology through a true internalisation of that relationship, and yet tackles some seriously difficult social issues in iBoy. These issues range from those power struggles and elements of bullying often inherent within the hierarchy of teenage relationships, extending into gang culture and on into adult criminal gangs, and through to truly appalling violence perpetrated against mothers, grandmothers, teenage girls and boys.
This violence is, however, placed in its context of power relations, and includes misogyny and the idea that people are pawns in a game to the powerful – to be abused as punishment, including to punish someone other than the victim. The violence is brutal, and while the narrative points out how and why it occurs and that it is explicitly unacceptable, ultimately this only applies to the innocent because the graphic revenge meted out to the deserving bad clearly isn’t included in the morally reprehensible nature of the violence meted out to the innocent - albeit this moral questioning does form an equally important part of Tom’s journey.
Brooks’ prose is straight to the point, and utilises factual information about how technology operates with great effect in the narrative, leaving the poetry all in the content in iBoy, and particularly in Tom’s almost philosophical experience of the relationship between technology and the human through his perception of himself within that relationship. But at the heart of iBoy is a compelling story of violence and revenge, and of Tom’s need to make sense of and find his physical and moral place in his world.
iBoy is available from Libraries or from all good bookshops.
This review of iBoy is part of a series of reviews for the British Books Challenge 2012.