Brass by Helen Walsh

Fancy shagging some prostitutes and sniffing yourself into a cocaine-induced coma whilst failing your degree and alienating your nearest and dearest? Read this – it might give you a few pointers. This is the story of Millie, who is obsessed by the seedy underworld of the whores in Liverpool’s Hope Street, and hangs around with the coke barons in Liverpool when she should be doing a degree. ‘Brass’ is being pitched as a kind of female Trainspotting, an exploration of lives fuelled by drink and drugs and the struggle against reality, but it doesn’t quite work – it’s not quite as gritty.

Millie keeps berating the Liverpool students for their pretension and self-consciousness, and yet she seems to revel in her vices just as ostentatiously. Helen Walsh’s debut holds some pretty passages, with full-bodied descriptions of stormy landscapes and urban depravity, but she tries too hard to shock, with extremely graphic depictions of sex scenes and over-gratuitous use of the ‘c’ work (it might sound prudish but come on! Is it really necessary?). The only character for whom any sympathy is elicited is best friend Jamie – who, in his naïve love for Millie, gets trodden on like a doormat. Millie just seems to be an obnoxious brat who wants a bit of attention. Unfortunately she’s also the kind of character who inevitably gets it.

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