Home > 2010, 21st Century, British Literature, Cartwright Anthony, Novella, State of the Nation, Translation Tragedy > The Cut by Anthony Cartwright – Subtle, poignant and balanced

The Cut by Anthony Cartwright – Subtle, poignant and balanced

February 28, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Cut by Anthony Cartwright (2017) Not available in French.

The Cut by Anthony Cartwright opens with a foreword by Meike Ziervogel from Pereine Press.

The result of the EU referendum shocked me. I realized that I had been living in one part of a divided country. What fears—and what hopes—drove my fellow citizens to vote for Brexit? I commissioned Anthony Cartwright to build a fictional bridge between the two Britains that have opposed each other since the referendum day.

And Anthony Cartwright delivered a poignant story that points out the differences between these two Britains, builds a tentative bridge and avoids the pitfall of judgment. I’m reading this with the eyes of a foreigner, so forgive me if I missed cultural undercurrents or if I’m making naïve remarks.

We’re in Dudley, in the county of West Midlands. (I had to look it up on Wikipedia, I’m not good with UK geography) It’s a former coal, iron and limestone industrial area.

Cairo Jukes, in his early forties, has lived his whole life among the canals of the Black Country. He’s been divorced for years and he’s already a grand-father as his daughter Stacey-Ann got pregnant at 19. He lives with his parents because he can’t afford a flat. He struggles to support himself on zero-hours contracts.

Grace is a successful documentary film-maker and she comes from London to do a reportage in Dudley. They meet by chance in downtown Dudley and Cairo agrees to speak with her and participate to the documentary. They are attracted to each other but clearly don’t live in the same world, with the same codes and same vocabulary. The bridge is hard to build as they don’t have the same foundations.

Cairo lives one day at a time, he literally can’t afford to make projects. He never knows how many hours he’ll work and how much he’ll earn. This is where the current pandemic puts us all on equal footing: we all have to learn to live with uncertainty and the impossibility to plan ahead. And it’s hard.

We know something dramatic happens and page after page, we discover Cairo’s life, his world and Anthony Cartwright manages to put the right words on it. He’s never condescending. Cairo comes to life, a multidimensional character with hollows and bumps. I found him very moving and of all the differences between Cairo and Grace, their circumstances, their past and their hope for the future, the one that upset me the most was in this paragraph:

What swayed him was when she said it might be fun. She actually used the word fun. She was a person who used words such as fun and wonderful, and he was not sure he’d ever met anyone who spoke like this in real life, or anywhere else for that matter. It seemed to open something up. Maybe it was OK, changing again after years, to feel himself becoming someone new, when he’d assumed he’d shrink away.

Something is seriously wrong with our countries if we have people who don’t know how to use the word fun anymore.

The campaign for the Brexit is in the background, a white noise that makes itself more and more persistent as the book progresses. Cartwright shows a mosaic of people around Cairo and none of them can be pingeonholed in a comfortable little box. Brexit is a complex matter and turning complex matters into a simple referendum question leads to disaster.

Cartwright doesn’t make a statement, doesn’t take any side but paints an accurate picture of two people who don’t live in the same country. Hell, they put subtitles on the television when Cairo’s interview is broadcasted. I’ve never seen this on the French TV, except sometimes for Québec speakers. Most Francophone speakers are intelligible without subtitles.

Cairo’s vision is summed up here:

People are tired. Tired of clammed-up factory gates, but not even them any more, because look where they are working now, digging trenches to tat out the last of whatever metal was left. Tired of change, tired of the world passing by, tired of other people getting things that you and people like you made for them, tired of being told you were no good, tired to be told that what you believed to be true was wrong, tired of being told to stop complaining, tired of being told what to eat, what to throw away, what to do and what not to do, what was right and wrong when you were always in the wrong. Tired of supermarket jobs and warehouse jobs and jobs guarding shopping centres. Work had always worn people out, the heat of furnaces, the clang of iron, but this is tiredness of a different order, tiredness that a rest will not cure, like a plague, eating away at them all.

That’s one reason people vote for Brexit, to try something new. That’s how they put on their yellow vests and invest roundabouts and city centres. But the reasons are more complex than that and it’s time the Grace side of the world pays attention to them.

The Cut is set in the UK but it goes with books like And Their Children After Them by Nicolas Mathieu, Who Killed My Father by Edouard Louis, films by Robert Guédiguian or plays like I Took My Father on my Shoulders by Fabrice Melquiot or the stage adaptation of Returning to Reims by Didier Eribon. Hot topics that were swept under the carpet by a pesky virus but will come back full force in 2022.

Many thanks to Marina Sofia for sending me this book. Her interesting review is here. It’s still time to add this to the #ReadIndies challenge hosted by Karen and Lizzy. It’s a Pereine Press book, after all.

  1. February 28, 2021 at 3:13 pm

    Great post Emma, and Peirene are a wonderful indie who always published such thought-provoking books. Interesting to see things from your viewpoint too – I have seen subtitles on TV for people speaking in regional dialects or from my own country of Scotland and I find it insulting. We truly are a very divided nation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 28, 2021 at 7:56 pm

      I know about Pereine Press because of all the bloggers who post about their books. I think it’s my first one, though, mostly because I don’t read translations in English and they publish a lot of translated books.

      To be honest, I was shocked by the subtitles detail.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. March 1, 2021 at 2:51 am

    That fault line seems to be appearing in so many places and it’s downright frightening to see the mentality of some fellow citizens. It’s like running across someone from another time or planet. Lovely review of an interesting book.


    • March 1, 2021 at 8:41 pm

      I like the term “fault line”
      I don’t know how it’ll improve, unfortunately.
      It is an interesting book and well written. I’ll have to look for Cartwright’s other books.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Vishy
    March 1, 2021 at 10:39 am

    Beautiful review, Emma! I didn’t know that Peirene Press published English books! I have seen only their translated work. This looks like a wonderful, insightful book. I found the lines spoken by Cairo that you’ve quoted so powerful – “Work had always worn people out, the heat of furnaces, the clang of iron, but this is tiredness of a different order, tiredness that a rest will not cure, like a plague, eating away at them all.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts 😊


    • March 1, 2021 at 8:45 pm

      It’s a powerful book and a slim one.
      I liked Cairo, his family and that Cartwright painted subtle characters. Nothing is black or white.


      • Vishy
        March 6, 2021 at 3:28 pm

        Very fascinating to know that, Emma!

        Liked by 2 people

  4. March 1, 2021 at 12:55 pm

    I’m not sure I’m any closer to understanding Brexit (or Trumpism) and yet I work all the time with socially conservative working people, but then I don’t do much with people in dead-end jobs and I guess that is where the discontent is. Australia has less of that disconnect between vibrant, liberal cities (London, New York) and dying manufacturing centres. We have dying manufacturing suburbs but moving is no big deal and there is big money to be made by working class (mostly) men.
    Interesting that the author was commissioned to write a fiction about the problem.
    And sorry Kaggsy, I think subtitles for interviewees with regional accents is a great idea (You probably think the same about Australians)


    • March 1, 2021 at 8:48 pm

      Brexit is based on a lie and I’ll never understand how a vote could be validated with a campaign based on lies.
      One positive outcome for France is that Brexit is such a mess that we don’t hear about Frexit anymore.


      • March 2, 2021 at 12:09 am

        Frexit would be terrible. France and Germany in a union is a beacon for the world. I think the problem lies in the rush to include eastern Europe just to get up Russia’s nose. Slower might have been better.


        • March 3, 2021 at 10:26 pm

          Yes, it would be terrible. (plus we’d have to change of currency.)


  5. Tony
    March 4, 2021 at 5:56 am

    Still haven’t read this – really must make time for it at some point (especially as Dudley’s very close to where I was brought up!).

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 5, 2021 at 10:29 pm

      It’s worth reading and I’m sure you’ll read it in one sitting. I’d love to read your thoughts about it.

      Liked by 2 people

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