Displacement

DISPLACEMENT, about a white, working-class, uneducated, alienated and ignored man who at nights becomes the London Leaper, free-running the capital's roofline in defiance of death, seeking escape from a culture that doesn't care for him or his kind. A unique look at the new urban sport of parkour/free running— 'the art of displacement' as it is called in its French homeland; parkour's popularity has boomed in the past few years, and is frequently the subject of viral Internet clips and documentaries.

Pub. by Endeavour Press, 2015

Description

Martin Hacklett, our protagonist, is white, working-class, poorly-educated and impoverished. But at nights he becomes the London Leaper, a death-defying athlete crisscrossing the capital’s skyline in restless search of physical challenges, and symbolic escape from a culture that doesn’t care for him or his kind. As he races from roof to roof, he troubles the sleep and conscience of an unquiet city

This is a sympathetic and nuanced portrayal of white working-class Londoners, a long ignored minority starting to attract mainstream interest, as shown by the success of the hit film Kingsman: The Secret Service, which features a protagonist from a similar low-class background. With sympathetic characters and a sharp slice of social commentary, this novella pushes the reader to evaluate their own views on class and environment. What drives a person to scale rooftops at night, to repeatedly throw themselves in danger? For Martin, it’s a desperate flight from a situation that too many of us will recognize—that feeling of being trapped by circumstances, of forced reliance on a system that invariably fails us. Martin finds his refuge, and in the process spotlights the many kinds of modern malaise that affect all of us, not just those in similar socio-economic condition.

DISPLACEMENT is a thought-provoking, critical look at sanctuaries we choose to help us cope with our individual situations, and a poignant examination of how those sanctuaries are too often thwarted by our own efforts.

Reviews:

So do read this book.  It is angry, passionate about London, east London, the faded pomp of the Thames and the richness of the north Kent coast; it’s funny, sad, and very moving.  It has a hero you will root for and a supporting cast of brilliantly drawn characters.  It would be excellent if Displacement were to be made into a film:  Jimmy McGovern (Accused, Common) or Michael Winterbottom (Everyday) are probably the only British directors at the moment who could adequately capture the deeply layered class nuances required by the story. It is a great novella.  Timely, tragic and all too true. Full review here: http://www.quadrapheme.com/fiction-review-displacement/

Barney Campbell’s first novel, Rainfollows British soldiers in Afghanistan at the war’s savage peak. It has been described by William Boyd as “a wonderfully achieved, enthralling and moving novel of war. Its authenticity is as telling as it is terrifying”.

Displacement by Derek Turner
Reviewed by Liam Guilar

Martin Hacklett is English. He lives in London. His father, who used to work on the Thames, has been unemployed for fifteen years. His elder brother has been in and out of prison. School consisted of the usual encounters with bullies and institutional indifference and now he’s working as a bicycle courier, weaving his way through the buildings that tower above him. He had a girlfriend, Kate, but they were going nowhere. Then, trapped in front of the television, he sees a documentary on parcour.

Free-running offers the possibility of excellence. It reunites him with Kate. It offers him the freedom to move above those who habitually look down upon him and it allows him to physically interact with his city.

Turner’s descriptions of London are one of the highlights of Displacement. The city becomes a character: old, vibrant, curled along its river, evoked in swift effective sentences creating precise and memorable images. The prose is a pleasure to read.

As is almost inevitable in a world of tweets, likes and shares, where everyone is armed with a camera and an opinion, where significance and value are measured by the attention a person or act attracts, Martin becomes a minor celebrity. He becomes ‘The London Leaper’.

Turner’s story dramatizes the systemic problems facing the Hackletts and the danger of assuming there are simple solutions for them. The plot allows him to explore the social issues but leave them open for the reader to consider. For Martin, his father and brother, the phrase ‘white male privilege’ can only be ironic. They are the last English family in the aptly named Omdurman Street.

In Displacement, names are significant. Omdurman was a famous British victory in the heyday of the Empire. Their house is named after Sir Francis Drake’s ship. However, the traditions these names reflect are no longer unambiguous. In the twenty-first century, the past has suddenly become a problem. It is intellectually fashionable to be guilty. The British have to deal with their empire. White Australians struggle with the ugly history of settlement and its legacy. Americans have started to argue over how to deal with the memory of their Civil War.

It is to Turner’s credit that in a sixty page tale about a free-runner, he manages to be thought-provoking about difficult social issues without overloading his story.

Martin started at Sir John Hawkins primary school. Hawkins, an English hero, was instrumental in the defeat of the Armada in 1588. Without Hawkins, England would have become a province of the Spanish Empire. However, he made a fortune shipping slaves across the Atlantic. In 2006 someone claiming to be his descendant apologized, publicly, for his actions.

By the time Martin entered secondary school, he was already falling through the system. An aptitude for mathematics has disappeared and all that’s left is a love of the gym and an interest in poetry, which he keeps to himself. He starts at Samuel Pepys Comprehensive. The ‘comps’ were a hard won victory, providing educational opportunities for the children of parents who couldn’t afford private schools. They removed the evil of deciding a child’s future at the age of 11. Samuel Pepys is one of London’s most famous citizens, his diary a monumental literary tribute to the city. The name is changed to Aspire! Academy, a move redolent of the vacuous corporate speak infecting modern education. Tradition, with its problems and complexity, is discarded for a bright and unconvincing future that leaves the Hackletts stranded.

The emptiness of Aspire! Academy’s name is dramatized when Martin and Kate discuss their futures.

Kate says: ‘Mr. Finn says I should think about the law, or business, or maybe politics. There’s nothing I can’t do, he said! More women needed everywhere, he said’.

Aspiring might be fashionable: opportunities remain the privilege of those with the wealth, or the connections, or the support to pursue them. The English ‘had no need for interventions, because they had so many advantages as it was’. Kate becomes a nail technician.

When Martin becomes the ‘Leaper’, the press arrives in the form of Seb, self-styled first ‘conceptual arts correspondent’. There is a venerable British literary tradition of criticizing ‘do-gooders’ and Displacement, guilt-free, belongs to it. After all, this is Dickens’ city. Unlike famous predecessors, journalists like Francis Mayhew, who in the 19th century wrote about ‘The London Poor’ to understand them and bring their plight to a wider audience, Seb’s motives are mixed. He is convinced the Hackletts need him. Whether left or right politically, Turner uses Seb to criticize all those who are ideologically driven and not only have little understanding of those they think they are going to save, but never recognize them as people.

In his own mind, Seb’s journey to interview The Leaper is an anthropologist’s field trip into an exotically dangerous part of the city. He is armed with a prefabricated vocabulary that reflects his ideological certainties. Turner dramatizes how they prevent him from understanding the people he meets. He admires Kate’s ‘authenticity’, while noting the cheapness of her clothes. She’s what he expects from ‘such people’ from a ‘disadvantaged community’. He mocks her aspirations to himself while admiring her legs. Dad’s dislike of swearing in the house, especially in front of women, he dismisses as an ‘absurdly sexist punctilio’. The Hackletts aren’t a family but an ‘evolutionary survival mechanism in a transgressive social system’. Seb’s pompous categories unravel. He wants Martin to be a ‘natural philosopher’ but is threatened when the natural philosopher demonstrates his knowledge of modern poetry. And nothing in Seb’s tidy categories can cope with Martin’s elder brother.

As he leaves his field trip, the humans fade to material for phrase- making as the categories reassert themselves. He’s not interested, or apologetic, when they find his article offensive. He’s labeled them ‘The Despised’. After all, they need him. His editor has applauded his phrases, nameless other people ‘really’ like the article and it has provoked thousands of tweets. What does worry him is that Martin has laughed at his pompous writing.

Seb introduces Martin to a publisher. ‘The Leaper’, now a marketable name, is asked to write an introduction to a collection of poems called Outsider Iambics. It sounds like one of those dreary literary productions where the identity of the writers is more important than the writing, and owning the book demonstrates the reader has the appropriate sympathies. All three Hackletts think the poetry is bad.

But can free-running remain ‘free’? When Kate asks Martin to stop, he says that if he does, Seb and the publisher will lose interest in him. His dad is now proud of him; his brother is inspired and besides, he still enjoys the activity. What was once his sole reason has become the last and least important.

Turner’s art allows for the messy complexity of life. Lurking in the story is another awkward question; to what extent do the exploited collude in their exploitation? Displacement is a powerful parable of dispossession and attempted escape suggesting no matter how gifted Martin is, because of where and when he was born, whatever his aspirations he will always fall short.

Interviews:

http://www.quadrapheme.com/displacement-21st-century-alienation/

By

Derek Turner

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