The cover stood out for me, an homage to The Clash’s “London Calling” album cover (itself an homage to the cover of Elvis Presley’s first album). But where the Clash cover pictured bass player Joe Simonon smashing his instrument against the stage, Ian Young’s London Skin and Bones: The Finsbury Park Stories shows one of the lads smoking a cigarette on a metal stair. The Clash was all action and fury, Skin and Bones has little action and not much in the way of plot. However, both works drop you into a totally different world and do so in totally different ways. Despite its lack of plot momentum, London Skin and Bones is an engaging, entertaining portrait of a colorful group of friends.
Margaret Thatcher’s London was, for most, pretty grim, but those sentiments rarely touch Young’s Finsbury Park. It seems insulated from Thatcherism even as it’s steeped in it. But when I was that age, I remember the people and the surroundings far better than the politics surrounding the time. And although one of the blurbs calls Young the “Boz of Finsbury Park,” it’s this lack of politics which separates it from Dickens. Additionally, Dickens was fond of foreshadowing and intricate plotting, but you’ll not find that here.
What you will find is thirteen short stories portraying a gritty world centered around the goings-on at Boris Mostoyenko’s stamp shop:
Boris’s shop was a hodge-podge of three or four different shops in one. Signs taped to the front window announced “BOOKS, STAMPS, STATIONERY,” and “APPLIANCE REPAIR.” One side of the shop was piled with broken toasters, used record players, old electric typewriters, antique radios, and parts of unidentifiable machines. The other side was fitted out with brown-painted bookshelves. Some of these held envelopes, staplers, notebooks, packets of colored writing paper, and rolls of stout brown parcel wrapping. The rest were crammed with secondhand books, mostly of prewar vintage.
It’s Young’s unerring eye for details and poet’s love of language that keeps your interest in this portraiture, but his characters are also wonderful cameos–Boris himself, Seamus Moore, The Triplets, Old Sarge. The stories are about bars, boys, pranks, characters, love, sex, and coin collecting and bear great titles like “The Buggery Club,” “Mrs. Singh’s Tandoori Popcorn,” “The Boy in the Blue Boxing Gloves,” and “Sexual Alternatives for Men.” But these pieces work as a whole. As expected, such a rich feast is best eaten in small bites, so one or two at a time work better than a whole fistful.
A remarkable achievement, Ian Young’s London Skin and Bones is well worth your time.
© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler