Caught in the Crossfire

Set in the fictional English town of Oldfield, this novel explores some of the racial tensions which surfaced in Britain after the devastating events of September 11th 2001. It is focused mostly around two families. Mike’s family are from the white, working-class Moorside estate; Rabia’s family are Muslims and they live in the ethnically mixed ‘Triangle’ area of the town. Oldfield is modelled on many north-of-England towns where the central industry has been shut down: there is now high unemployment, the area is dilapidated and most of its population holds little hope of any improvement in their situation. Caught in the Crossfire charts the deterioration of relations between the communities of the Moorside and the Triangle through the actions and experiences of the characters, with an eventual tragic climax. The text is divided into very short sections alternating between the main characters. While this enables us to gain insight into the circumstances, motivations and mindset of many of the characters, it also prevents the reader from building up a strong relationship with any of them. Gibbons’s characters are, for the most part, not complex or charismatic. Dividing the story into short episodes does, however, allow Gibbons to show the progressive escalation of tension and aggression between members of two communities as well as charting the growth of the sinister Patriotic League, a provocative political organisation with a nationalistic, separatist mandate. Although somewhat didactic and blunt in its narrative, Gibbons’s novel does much to illustrate the insidious ways in which racism and its proponents can gain hold in a community by preying on the weak and the vulnerable.