In brief

19th March 2004 at 00:00
Bad Influence

By William Sutcliffe

Hamish Hamilton pound;7.99

William Sutcliffe's early novels were about middle-class adolescents' rites of passage - the sixth-form identity crisis in New Boy and the gap year in Are You Experienced? - and were likely to be enjoyed by the young adults who appeared on their pages.

This tale of two 10-year-old boys led astray by a dodgy new friend who acts much older than them has some features familiar from children's fiction: the first-person narrator urged by officialdom to tell the terrible story and examine his motives; the fleeting glimpses into the foreign land of grown-ups and their problems. But there's too little going on for real 10-year-old readers, then suddenly far too much. This is a wake-up call for adult readers who have forgotten how brutal children can be and how intense their relationships and power struggles are.

It is set in a strangely anonymous stretch of north-west London, where everyone except the shopkeeper is white, in the mid-1980s, which accounts for the boys' parents seeming a shade too relaxed about their whereabouts and the lack of mobile phones as plot devices. But Ben's universe, in which Olly has played contented underdog until damaged, violent Carl upsets the pecking order, is clearly drawn and still exists right next to ours.

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