by Polis Loizou
Matthew Janney, The Culture Trip’s UK Books Editor, wrote a timely piece earlier this year on the subject of Brexit literature, in which he described it as a new genre “reminiscent of classical 20th-century dystopian fiction”, but one that aimed to “narrativize the turbulent fallout of the [United Kingdom’s] 2016 referendum.” He saw this “volatile source of material” as an unending wellspring of inspiration, and suggested with conviction: “This is a space that fiction can own.”
Certainly the referendum on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union has been hugely divisive, with families and friends falling out over the pros and cons of leaving. There does also appear to be a new “era-defining” fiction emerging from the chaos. In his article, Janney quotes briefly from Ali Smith’s Autumn, a book described by The Guardian as being the “first post-Brexit novel”. These few sentences bear repeating:
“All across the country, people felt it was the wrong thing. All across the country, people felt it was the right thing. All across the country, people felt they’d really lost. All across the country, people felt they’d really won. All across the country, people felt they’d done the right thing and other people had done the wrong thing…“
Disbanded Kingdom is a dispiriting coming-of-age story set against the emotive backdrop of the UK’s breakaway from the EU and its prospective split with Scotland. Oscar, its 22-year-old protagonist is an introspective man-child living in upscale Kensington with his doting foster mother Charlotte Fontaine, a highly successful writer of cheesy romance novels. He is the definitive ‘poor little rich kid’ – qualified for nothing – with little incentive to work as his bank balance is regularly and unquestioningly replenished. Between meeting female friends in fashionable cafes and getting drunk at all-nighters, his days are spent roaming the streets of London and riding to nowhere in particular on the Tube.
Oscar does have redeeming qualities: he’s bright, kind-hearted and inquisitive. After breaking up with his boyfriend and sinking into a melancholic lethargy, he starts questioning his place in the world. He is at his lowest ebb when he first meets (and is instantly attracted to) Tim, Charlotte’s thirty-something literary agent, a witty, politicized northerner with whom he shares a sense of the absurd. Although he often struggles to understand the older man’s views on class and his rejection of religion, their friendship changes his perceptions of life and galvanizes him into rethinking his future.
The characters are able to express their polarized views on issues such as Brexit, immigration and Scottish devolution in set pieces – generally as they sit around a dinner table. Heated discussion is followed by awkward silence; a situation maddeningly familiar to most of us these days. Not since the English Civil War have we been so at odds with each other, and the author perfectly captures the all too real tensions between narrow conservatism and open-minded liberalism in an informal environment.
Polis Loizou was born and raised in Cyprus, but now lives in South London. He is a co-founder of London’s Off-Off-Off Broadway Company, which primarily performs his plays, and has enjoyed a series of successes since its first hit at the Buxton Fringe in 2009. His work has been featured in The Stockholm Review of Literature, Liars’ League NYC and Litro Magazine. Disbanded Kingdom is his first published novel.
This clever piece of fiction has arrived at the height of Brexit anxiety in the UK and is depressingly ‘on the button’. However, after finishing the novel I was left hoping young people may have the gumption and good sense to move on from this monumental muddle of our own making.
Brexit is a phrase coined in 2012. It is an abbreviation of “British exit.”
Many thanks to Cloud Lodge Books for providing an advance review copy of this title.