“Stripe has done [Dunbar] a great service” – Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe

btaabsasAdelle Stripe’s debut novel Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile, chronicles the life of Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar. Using characters real and imagined, Stripe explores the turbulent life of Dunbar, from her upbringing on the Buttershaw Estate in Bradford to the glitter and glamour of the London stage.

The strength of the novel lies in the fact it is not an uncritical homage to Andrea Dunbar, the chaotic lifestyle, the excessive drinking, bad relationship choices and self-destruction are in no way glossed over but rather displayed for all to see.

In contrast to this we have the fantastic talent of Andrea Dunbar itself. Dunbar’s writing was first discovered by a teacher in her school. Over time she battled against all the odds stacked against her to became a success in the world of theatre. Her best-known work without doubt is the play Rita, Sue and Bob Too which was later adapted for the cinema by Alan Clarke.

When asked in a recent interview why she chose to write a novel rather than a biography of Andrea Dunbar, Adelle Stripe said her intention was to write a biography but as she gathered more material for research it became clear that she was relying on Dunbar’s plays as her main source of evidence as these were in fact dramatised versions of her own life.

Personally, one of the hardest parts of the book to read, and where Adelle Stripe’s prowess as a writer shines through, is when she relates the reaction of the locals to Andrea Dunbar’s success. To say they are not pleased is an understatement. Many on the estate shun her and are not afraid to make their feelings known. Adelle Stripe handles this well and we get a real sense of both Andrea Dunbar’s regret and self-doubt and the rage whirling around her.

Adelle Stripe is best known as a poet and in this novel her ear for language serves her well as she expertly captures the rhythm and cadences of Bradford. That Stripe does this in a manner that is honest and not patronising only serves to illuminate her talent.

Any Cop?: Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile charts the life of Andrea Dunbar, hopefully it will lead to a renewal of interest in her work. In this novel Adelle Stripe has done her a great service. Hopefully for Stripe the payoff will be further success.

 

Joe Phelan

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