Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze review – the double life of a London gangster

The tension between the author’s ultraviolent life on the streets and his university studies are at the heart of this autofictional Booker-longlisted debut

Contemporary English fiction is, with a few exceptions, a bourgeois affair: middle-class authors writing for middle-class readers about high-class problems. So Who They Was, the Booker-longlisted autofictional debut by Gabriel Krauze, arrives on the literary scene like the sound of gunfire over a south Kilburn housing estate.

The book’s protagonist Gabriel – Snoopz to his friends – spends most of his time bunning zoots and cotching with mandem in da endz (or smoking weed and hanging out with his mates in the neighbourhood). He has a foot each in two cultures: the university where he is studying for an English literature degree, and the world of gang warfare which forms the greater portion of the book’s subject. It is the tension in his double life that gives this novel its extraordinary force.

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