It was never going to be long before Brexit became a central focus for novelists writing in the UK. We already had one big attempt to grapple with the idea of our impending exodus from the EU, and the referendum which brought us towards it, when Ali Smith released the wonderful Autumn. In her typically irreverent style she questioned the choices that led us to such a monumental decision at the same time as trying to understand some of the reasons. It was an insightful and interesting read, as almost all her novels are.
And as much as Smith might be considered a more than acceptable writer to take on the task of considering Brexit in literary form, there can be few more suited authors than Anthony Cartwright. Already taking politics firmly in hand in previous works Iron Towns, Heartlands, and How I Killed Margaret Thatcher, it is almost as if his career has been leading up to this point. Considering how political his work is, though, it is interesting that his take on Brexit is framed largely through the lens of a love story.
Cairo, a boxer who works on zero hours construction contracts, and Grace, a documentarian who has come to Dudley to make a film about the referendum, couldn’t seem more unsuitable for each other when they first meet. But there is some kind of spark. And as that spark develops, during the course of various interviews for the documentary, it becomes impossible for them to ignore. But it also proves equally as hard for them to forget that they are on opposite sides when it comes to the biggest vote either of them has ever had to take part in. The nagging worry that their attraction for each other will not survive the referendum result pulses through every page.
Cartwright’s novel does a fantastic job of showing us how the referendum campaign divided the country and put up walls that were impossible to climb. It shows where the feelings on both sides of the fight might have come from, and it shows the desperation to which it led, and the lengths people were willing to go to fight their corner – even if, sometimes, they didn’t fully understand what they were fighting for.
Any Cop?: Cartwright takes the age-old story of two lovers from opposite ends of the track and turns into an analogy for the turbulent times we find ourselves in today. All the column inches that have covered this story in the last year or so will not have come as close to the truth of the matter as Cartwright does in just 129 pages. Probably his best work so far.