My Name Is Yip by Paddy Crewe review – a consummate debut

This rollicking adventure set in gold rush America features an unforgettable protagonist

“‘My name is Yip Tolroy & I am mute. I have made not a sound since the day of my birth, October 2nd, 1815.” So begins Paddy Crewe’s ambitious, cinematic debut novel set during Georgia’s gold rush in a semi-mythic American south that recalls both Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses and Faulkner’s Light in August. Purporting to be the written account of Yip’s adventures narrated from the comfort of later life, it explores a society in flux, one about to turn its back on religion and embrace greed and individualism. It’s also a rollicking, page-turning wild west adventure, populated by a cast of arresting grotesques, with luminous imagery and an unforgettable protagonist.

When Yip’s father mysteriously disappears, his fierce, gun-toting mother opens Tolroy’s Store in Heron’s Creek and sets her son to work. At 14, he’s just 4ft tall and hairless, from what we assume to be alopecia. The pain of his mutism is well expressed in affecting arias: “How can a man live without his voice, O this was the question what begun to haunt my every waking & sleeping minute.” His future looks bleak until a retired doctor teaches him to read and gives him a slate on which to write. This single means of communication is the tool that emancipates Yip, one that travels with him through his picaresque adventures after he embarks on a disastrous night expedition prospecting for gold: “I too turned my heart away from God & took a turn down the Road to Ruin.”

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