BOOK REVIEW – An Act Of Love by Alan Gibbons

By Marty Mulrooney

AnActOfLoveCover

An Act Of Love is the latest novel from prize-winning Liverpool author Alan Gibbons. Told primarily in flashback, the book tells the story of neighbours and childhood friends Chris and Imran as they grow up together in the UK following the turn of the millennium. However, as they grow older their lives take very different paths. Chris joins the army and serves in Afghanistan, whilst Imran becomes a potential jihad recruit…

An Act Of Love begins in February 2011 with Chris at an awards ceremony after having returned injured from Afghanistan several months prior. Moments before he is due to collect his medal, he receives a text message from Imran, who he hasn’t spoken to in years. There’s a bomb. Meanwhile, Imran and his older brother Rafiq are speeding towards the ceremony in a white Lexus, desperate to stop the bomber.

‘Do you think we’ll have to fight wars?’ I asked. ‘Men fight. That’s what they do.’

Imran shrugged. ‘Who are you going to fight?’

Our enemies.’

‘Like who?’

I had to think for a minute. ‘It used to be the Germans, but my dad says we don’t fight them any more. They just beat us at football.’ Something unpleasant occurred to me. ‘You don’t think we’d ever fight each other do you?’

Imran pulled a face. ‘Don’t be stupid, we’re blood brothers. Besides, I’d kick your butt.’

The bulk of the story is told via flashback as Chris struggles to decide what to do about the bomb warning he has received. The earlier childhood sections in particular are very well written and effectively conveyed, stripping away the cultural and ethnic backgrounds of both boys, presenting their friendship in its purist form. They explore together, get up to mischief together and always have each other’s backs. They’re thick as thieves.

Of course, the book’s premise strongly suggests that this won’t always be the case as they grow older, and it most certainly isn’t. Alan Gibbons wisely chooses to frame the narrative with real-life events so that the fictional elements are given added weight and authenticity. It works wonderfully. The Bradford riots that took place on the 7th of July 2001 are used as a major plot point, with Imran’s brother Rafiq’s involvement greatly impacting his family. Likewise, Chris’s family feel afraid and consider moving to a safer part of the city. The events of September 11th 2001 only serve to worsen tensions within the community.

Imran turned. ‘You just do your job, that it? I bet that’s what the Nazis said.’ He became aware of the blood on his hands. To my horror he reached out and smeared it on my face. It was a cold, deliberate act. I was so shocked I just stood there and let him do it.

Is this what you want Chris? You want to be blood brothers again?’ He formed his thumb and fingers into the shape of a revolver and pressed it to my forehead. ‘Yet you’ll go over there and kill my fellow Muslims. Go to hell, man. Yes, just go to hell.’

The contrast between the lives of soldiers, both serving in Afghanistan and upon the streets of the UK after being brainwashed by extremists, is a potent one indeed. It is sometimes difficult to read as Imran becomes a jihad recruit, yet strong characterisation ensures that despite his mistakes, he remains likeable and human. Likewise, Chris is shown to be battling with his own conscience in Afghanistan after shooting a Muslim attacker: When the enemy stepped from the cornfield I imagined another man’s features. When he lay dead I was starring down at somebody I knew. I saw Imran.

The weakest aspect of the book is the plot strand dealing with the bomb threat itself. The bomber – The White Leopard – feels generic and underdeveloped compared to Chris and Imran, a common trait shared by many of the supporting characters. The flashbacks which compromise the majority of the story are also far more effective than the opening and closing chapters set during the present day. Indeed, Chris and Imran’s tumultuous friendship is the driving force of the entire book. An Act of Love can feel too black-and-white at times, yet the underlying message still rings true. An enjoyable read made all the more current by the recent riots that have erupted across the UK.

8 OUT OF 10

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One response to “BOOK REVIEW – An Act Of Love by Alan Gibbons

  1. Pingback: New review of An Act of Love

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