Cover image for Brass
Walsh, Helen.
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Publication Information:
Edinburgh : Canongate, 2004.
Physical Description:
296 pages ; 22 cm
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* Upon its release in the United Kingdom, British Vogue said "if you want to find out what it is like to be a woman in England today [read] Brass." Literary circles, critics, students, and readers of all stripes are talking about Brass for its raw, unrelenting, yet compassionate and utterly compelling portrait of Millie, a promising college kid drifting into a deceptively inviting world of rough hewn street culture, drug-induced adorations, and sexual hedonism.

Helen Walsh, at the age of 27, has produced a staggeringly alive debut novel that portrays a generation of youth--those coming of age in the 80s and 90s--through the prism of Millie. Millie and her best friend Jamie have been through it all together. However, as Millie is lured away from a promising academic career toward a life of numbing drugs and increasingly deviant sexual encounters, Jamie is finally settling down with his girlfriend. Millie feels betrayed by one of the few authentic and nurturing relationships in her life at a pivotal time of self-revelation.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This is an extremely gritty version of Sex and the City0 , in which the sex is always debauched and the city is Liverpool. Nineteen-year-old university student Millie O'Reilley has not taken the news of the impending nuptials of her best mate, 28-year-old Jamie Keeley, very well. Drinking and drugging her way through the evenings, she usually ends up trolling the seedy section of town in search of female prostitutes (the "brass" of the title). Jamie is growing increasingly impatient with and worried by Millie's behavior and is at a loss to explain their relationship to his dim-witted, social-climbing fiancee. What sets this first novel apart within a burgeoning subgenre is Walsh's lyrical prose. Her evocative phrasing both contains and stands in direct contrast to incredibly graphic scenes of depravity, and the result is both disturbing and compelling. Although the rationale finally revealed for Millie's behavior is wholly conventional, nothing else about this novel is ordinary. The depiction of predatory female sexual behavior is, at times, shockingly edgy, and the prose is never less than exquisite. --Joanne Wilkinson Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Along with recent noteworthy debuts from Bella Bathurst (Special) and Jardine Libaire (Here Kitty Kitty), this novel is part of an emerging subgenre that might be called chick-lit noir. Its antiheroines are motivated-if you can call it that-by a creeping anomie and low-grade nihilism. If these girls have any ambitions at all, they are emotional abnegation, deranged sexual pleasures and/or chemical obliteration. Walsh's 19-year-old Millie could be the poster child for the subgenre as she bombs around her native Liverpool, lusting after barely adolescent girls and packing her head with booze and blow. Precocious, petulant, middle-class Millie has been "thick as thieves" with a posse of thuggish working-class guys since she was barely a teenager. But her best friend Jamie's increasing commitment to his fianc?e has created a "big dilating chasm" between them and has exacerbated Millie's tendency toward self-destructive behavior. Haunted by her perceived loss of Jamie and the painful memory of her estranged mother, "the savage and gradual build-up of [years of] filth and deceit" finally catches up with her and sends her spiraling into depravity. Millie's caustic commentary on the electro-charged sexual and intellectual power of postadolescent women heralds the arrival of a promising new voice from the darker fringes of antigirlhood. Agent, Canongate Books (Edinburgh). 6-city author tour. (Nov. 4) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Walsh joins a long list of first novelists coming out of the United Kingdom with stories about disaffected, drug- and sex-crazed youth. While her premise is not original and leans on the dramatic crutch of graphic situations, the story does have its moments (any book that opens with a lesbian sex scene involving a prostitute in a graveyard is sure to deliver a few). A talented Liverpool university student, Millie is plagued by her mother's abrupt departure and her best mate Jamie's shifting allegiances as he looks to clean up his act and settle down with a controlling girlfriend. Walsh skillfully maneuvers between the friends' perspectives, moving forward at a disturbingly fast clip that mirrors Millie's descent. Because Walsh doesn't rely simply on the explicit edginess of her protagonists but also works to develop their central complexities, Brass has more balance than most works in this newly minted genre. Recommended for larger literary fiction collections, especially those that specialize in the contemporary British scene.-Prudence Peiffer, Cambridge, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.