• West Cork Literary Festival 8-15 July 2022

Breakers by Doug Johnstone

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Literary Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

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A toxic family.
A fight for survival.

Breakers is the latest novel from author, journalist and musician, Doug Johnstone. Published with Orenda Books, it is described as ‘a breathtakingly brutal, beautiful, and deeply moving story of a good kid in the wrong family’ I have never read any previous work by Doug Johnstone but when Ian Rankin says Breakers may be Doug Johnstone’s best book yet…an unsparing yet sympathetic depiction of Edinburgh’s ignored underclass’….well, you just have to listen, don’t you!!

This book is a quite a special little find. Admittedly not one I would immediately have picked up in the shop but look closer folks because that cover is portraying so much. Tyler is seventeen years of age. His family is completely dysfunctional, in every way possible, with a drug-addicted mother unable to function, unable to focus. His older siblings live a very broken life style, robbing from the wealthy to feed their habits and dragging Tyler along for the ride. Tyler’s little baby sister, affectionately known as Bean, is the one staple in Tyler’s life, the one bit of innocence and light in his very dark world.

Tyler’s brother Barry is a loose cannon, a cruel and nasty individual with no remorse and no sense of right and wrong. The night it all goes wrong changes the lives of Tyler and his family forever. On a job, Barry insists they break in to a particular house, not alarmed, easy pickings. But an unexpected arrival of the woman of the house sets off a panicked frenzy with Barry stabbing this lady, the wife of one of Edinburgh’s most renowned crime gang, the Holts.

Tyler’s world comes crashing down. Unable to get the dying expression of Monica Holt out of his mind, Tyler is distracted and frightened. The Holts will seek revenge and Tyler knows that someone in their community will spill the beans. As Barry’s addiction spirals out of control, his attitude becomes more reckless , more careless, more daring. Tyler looks for a sanctuary, a place to hide away from his troubles for a while and it is there that he meets Flick, a rich girl boarding at the local private, and very expensive, school. Their relationship blossoms and troubles are shared but Tyler is in so deep, can he survive? Can Flick save him from a life of violence and crime?

Breakers is a heartbreaking read in so many ways. There is Tyler, a young man, with the world at his feet but no opportunities available to him. Surrounded all his life by destructive personalities, Tyler will need to dig deep to come through this particularly harrowing time of his life. There is a cinematic quality to this novel, with the sights and sounds of this dark side of Edinburgh so incredibly portrayed. Doug Johnstone has written a compelling and troubling novel, with some very touching scenes, very poignant and upsetting, yet filled with a strange and almost poetic beauty.

Breakers is a shocking yet very thought-provoking read. Tyler is such a lovable, warm character who got dealt a very rough hand. His life, unfortunately, is not unique and Doug Johnstone doesn’t spare in his harrowing descriptions of life in this particularly underprivileged Edinburgh suburb. A very emotional read, Breakers is one that will stay with me for quite some time, a book I would encourage all, including young adults (15+), to pick up and read. It’s insightful, stirring, tragic and yet hopeful…..

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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