The CutAnthony Cartwright
The Cut is a Brexit novel. The story offers a fictional response to a complex issue. It is also a plot-driven page-turner by one of the most exciting novelists in the country.
Cairo Jukes, a boxer from Dudley, supports himself on zero-hour contracts. He has grown up among the canals – or the cuts – that web the Black Country like the open veins of an old industrial order. Then he meets Grace, a successful documentary film maker from London.
The Cut will not put you at ease. It describes a relationship built on misunderstandings, intolerance and guilt – one where each side desires something that the other cannot give.
‘Writing The Cut made me understand that we live in a country where we see prejudice in others but not in ourselves. This is a lesson that I, and my two characters Cairo and Grace, have tried to learn, with varying levels of success. It is a hard lesson for us all.’ Anthony Cartwright
Why Peirene chose to commission this book:
‘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 Britains that opposed each other on referendum day.’ Meike Ziervogel
Written by Anthony Cartwright.
If you want to learn more about how this book came into being, please see our project page here.
176pp, paperback with flaps, £12
Published June 2017
Born in Dudley in 1973, Anthony Cartwright is the author of four previous novels, published by Serpent’s Tail, most recently Iron Towns (2016), which was praised in both The Guardian (‘Cartwright achieves something bold in Iron Towns: a fictional enactment of communal identity and shared culture…expert, restrained and skilful.’) and The Daily Mail (A gritty, moving elegy for an abandoned, once-thriving section of society’). His first three novels were all shortlisted for various literary awards, and he has also published a collaborative novel with Gianluca Favetto, Il giorno perduto (The Lost Day), released in Italy in 2015.
‘A diamond-sharp novella…These are vividly imagined lives, rendered with the concise strokes of an experienced portraitist.’ Jude Cook, The Guardian
‘A sensitive response to the national aura of suspicion unleashed by Brexit.’ Jon Day, Financial Times
‘Cartwright’s depiction of Cairo’s inner life is a salient reminder of how few men outside of the middle classes are now the central subjects of British fiction.’ Daniel Clarke, TLS
‘A compelling protest against simple answers that lingers in the mind long after the final page.’ Wyl Menmuir
‘Cartwright returns to his familiar turf of the Black Country with gentleness and ruthless sincerity. A deeply poignant human story…and a relentlessly gripping tale.’ Mika Provata-Carlone, Bookanista
The young woman runs burning along the side of the marketplace, down the High Street, away from the fountain. Away from the fountain and the cool, litter-strewn water. She is tall, long-legged. Her hair is ablaze and flames spit from an unravelling scarf towards the motley crowd of people who give chase. Someone is screaming, but it is not the woman. She breathes fire. There is the slap of cheap sandals on the pavement behind her.
‘Stop her,’ someone shouts. ‘Just fucking stop her.’
A man runs at the edge of the crowd, a camera on his shoulder, filming, does not stop the running woman. The procession ripples across shop windows and puddles from the earlier rain.
Then she falls, arms and legs and flames, and the men and women and kids crowd around her, with their heads bowed, their arms across their faces against the smell of burning hair, burning flesh. The scarf melts into the young woman’s face. The people roll her on the ground, with some sense of what to do. What to do if a woman comes running through the market on a Friday afternoon in the middle of England with her head on fire.
Cairo is hit from behind and keels forward so that he watches this side on, his head on the slabs, through fire and smoke, heat, the world watery in his eyes, and jagged and half-formed. There are people running. He feels the blows as they strike him, watches through their arms and legs.
A woman on her mobility scooter, an outrider of the chase, takes a blanket from her lap. The people wrap the burning woman in this and a lad’s red tracksuit top. The clothes begin to stick to her. And the people bicker about whether they are doing the right thing. They bend on either side of the fallen woman, rock her gently. Others gather with phones raised and aimed in witness. There are sirens now. One of the attendant men stands, stumbles and coughs, heaves into the gutter and sits down on the kerb, the cuffs of a torn work shirt rolled back and his burnt hands held out in front of him.
The woman on the mobility scooter beckons towards the man with the camera on his shoulder, who continues to film, and he approaches her, still filming. She pulls herself up, looks into the camera, which sees her soft, round English face twist behind her glasses, and she spits hard at the lens.
The taste of ash, burnt flesh.
There is a blackened stump in his mouth. And darkness, then light, darkness then light, in the pattern of flames against a dark hillside, the pattern of lights across a dark plain under hills.
To begin again, the day, his life, to begin.
The day begins with rain and Cairo curses it, wills it to stop. He holds his ankle support in his hand and looks at the trees through the bedroom window, the rain-dashed glass. Even with the weather this morning and a stiffness in his legs, he feels a sense of pulling through. He was always a stayer. When he phoned Jamie Iqbal the man had not said no.
‘You must be forty-five years old, Cairo. I don’t think I have ever heard anything like this in my life,’ Jamie said to him.
They had barely spoken for – what? – ten years. Except for that one night at the restaurant with Grace. Cairo tries not to think about that.
‘Thirty-eight. I’m thirty-eight,’ he said to Jamie.
He has not been thirty-eight for a good while, but forty-five is taking the piss. He knows they change names, ages, everything – you become someone new – at Jamie Iqbal’s nights. It’s not as if he wants his licence back. He tells himself he is not a fool, wonders whether in the telling there is some foolishness he cannot fathom.
He moves through the quiet rooms, the sound of a family asleep. Through the half-open bedroom door he sees the cot, the mobile that he sat up late to put together, zoo animals suspended in morning light. He steps into the room, aware of the creak of the floorboards, the sagging house. The boy’s fists are curled tight, his face serious in sleep, the flicker of his eyes beneath thin lids. A beautiful, dreaming boy, strong-looking, solid and real. Not like the other child in his, Cairo’s, head, unformed, spectral.
His daughter stirs in the bed, turns, her mouth open and her shoulders bare, still asleep, and Cairo steps backwards, out of the door, and stands there on the landing to wait and see if he has woken them, and wonders if he can do anything else right now except let them sleep a little longer.
If the fight is to take place it will be in Birmingham, not far from the Villa, at an abandoned furniture showroom by the Perry Barr dogs, now that Jamie has closed the restaurant. Cairo takes it as a good omen, enjoyed fighting in Birmingham as a kid. This new place has white-collar bouts and unlicensed meetings on the first Friday of the month. How white-collar boxing differs from that of his own people Cairo is not sure. He is blue collar. He is possibly no collar. This is something he would like to say to Jamie, something he would have liked to have said to Grace had things been different. She would’ve laughed. He woke thinking he heard a baby cry out, and perhaps it was Zach, and Stacey-Ann comforted him in the time it took Cairo to wake, silence in the house when he sat up and listened, and perhaps it was that other baby calling out from somewhere else.
Carefully he walks down the stairs. One foot in front of the other is how to do it.
‘You said you thought I could still handle meself.’
‘Thass a figure of speech, Cairo. Jesus.’
‘Just come and have a look. See what yer think,’ he said.
‘I cor believe I’m bloody listenin to yer.’
‘You know yer can trust me, Jay. You know that much.’
‘How many years is it, Cairo, how many?’
‘Honest to God.’
‘How’s yer ode mon?’ Jamie’s voice softened.
‘Jesus, it’s me that wants their head lookin at, not yow.’
‘You know yer can trust me, Jay. Just come and have a look.’
And that’s how they’d left it, had exchanged texts.
For Reading Groups
Get your brain in gear with our reading group questions:
1. Cairo burns at the beginning of the novel, but it is not disclosed why. How does the mystery of his immolation effect our reading of his character?
2. Cairo survives on zero hour contracts and lives in a very poor area of the UK, while Grace comes from wealth and has a good education. In what ways are their lives relatable?
3. Grace wants to see ‘real’ perspectives on the issue of Brexit. How does this effect her approaching of Cairo, and does it make her condescending?
4. On page 43, when Grace says ‘some of the elite want you to vote to leave,’ Cairo replies ‘They doh mean it.’ Why does Cairo believe there is a conspiracy surrounding the Brexit debate, and how does he affirm his suspicions?
5. Division is a prominent theme throughout the novel. How does this inform the way we receive the characters and their actions?
6. How does the perception and heresy surrounding the Brexit debate affect the characters’ interactions?
7. Cairo is repeatedly sceptical of Grace’s motives for making her documentary. Is he right to be, and how does this impact their relationship?
8. How does Grace justify the making of the documentary, and does her desire to document Cairo alter her perceptions of him?
9. Which characters do you sympathise with most, and why?
10. Does Cairo find any peace by the end of the novel?
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