The Scavenger’s Tale by Rachel Anderson

This is an interesting and impressive novel. It’s slim and simply written: she also writes children’s novels, and brings that clarity and precision here, but this would surely be too harrowing, morally in particular, for a child. It kind of put me in mind of a cross between Oliver Twist and 1984, with a strong dash of Leon Garfield.

It’s London in the nearish future, some years after some vague conflagration, a repressive and poverty-stricken place, visited by sick tourists, since the only things of value still on offer here are medical skill and quaint sights. Our protagonist is a teenage boy, struggling to sustain a meagre existence for his motley adoptive family of ‘dysfuncs’ (suffering from Down’s Syndrome, cerebral palsy and other such conditions) by scavenging in bins and on the Thames, until everything starts getting far worse, and sinister truths are revealed – these are pretty much given away by the blurb, and you’d have guessed very quickly anyway.

It’s nonetheless a brave novel, as our hero is so far from heroic – there’s one breathtakingly shocking and distressing scene, an instant moral and practical choice that he makes, something that rings true, but I’ve never seen its like before. This is halfway through, and the rest can’t quite live up to that moment’s impact, and the end fizzles rather. Her crisp writing carries you through with enough pace that this doesn’t hurt it too much, and it’s that and the one striking incident that will make me look for more by her.