Richard Milward’s second novel, ‘Ten Storey Love Song,’ is a sort-of Friends-on-acid scenario: all of his finely observed and unromantic characters live near each other, appear to be endlessly bed-hopping, and care about each other hugely. In Milward’s monstrous recreation, however, the ‘friends’ in question are all on the dole, and most of the time they’re on drugs. It is through one mammoth block of text in the book (there’s not a paragraph break in the entire thing), that we are shown the sex lives and loves and dole queues and drug trips of the residents of Peach House, a high-rise block of flats in the murky, and some would assume hopeless, outskirts of Middlesbrough.
The dole-queues and murkiness and sex and drugs are candidly recounted. Only 21 pages in—after a reminisced drug trip and a quickie with characters from whom we’ve only just learnt names—we’re given a four-page polemic on two of the characters’ poor sex life, and how it got off to the ‘shittest possible start’. Because, well, to quote the text, ‘In some people pills create awful farts and you can get a sort of laxative effect, and what with all the sex excitement Johnnie had forgotten about the Hot Shot Parmo and the severe diarrhoea.’ You can probably picture what happens next.
The two other main characters in the book, ‘Bobby the artist’ and his girlfriend Georgie, are described with equal frankness. Both love nothing more than munching pills and sugar, painting—and being painted—in numerous positions and outfits, and in the novel’s world of endless dole cash and carpets littered with drug-crumbs and food crumbs and drink cans and fag ash, these two characters, and their love, is the saving grace. When Bobby gets noticed for his talent by a London agent, an influx of money, publicity and more drugs separate him from his friends and his Georgie. There’s a moment or two of throwing cocaine around gaudy hotel rooms stuffed with women, but for Bobby, it soon cloys; he misses his beloved Peach House community. Milward, by using the perhaps thematically overdone rags-to-riches-back-to-rags-again plotline, shows quite beautifully the dedication that people have to the places and friends who made them, and how this exists even in the most unsentimental and uncompromising situations, to create hope when hope appears to be lacking.