Despite its length, this is a taut, lean, rapid novel. There is something cinematic about it, and some of the health warnings that come with films are appropriate. A ‘15’ Certificate is certainly in order. There is a great deal of ‘strong language’. At the end it comes as quite a surprise to find that there has been almost no explicit sex, and that with two key exceptions the violence is relatively minor. This is surprising because Brooks’s powerful story of five catastrophic days in the summer of a group of urban adolescents is sparked throughout by currents of sexuality and aggression. Much of their behaviour on one crucial night is fuelled by drink and drugs, and drug-induced hallucinations. Two people go missing during this night. The disappearance that is not resolved at the end is even more ominous and disturbing than the one that is. The book is strong stuff.
It is also compulsively readable and bleakly convincing. Peter Boland, the 16-year-old narrator, is idling away his summer holiday when he is invited to join a last reunion with a group of former close friends before two of them move to Paris. They are to gather at a former ‘den’ for some drinks, and then go on to a fairground. Peter reluctantly agrees, and Nicole, the instigator of this event, in turn reluctantly agrees to Peter’s wish to take along his neighbour, his close and truest friend, the eccentric Raymond. Having fixed the assignation, Peter writes, ‘I didn’t know it then, but… I’d just made the biggest mistake of my life’. As well he might.
Although the focus is on seven individuals, the broader underworld of modern teenage life is here, across the span from the aimless, nihilistic violence of sink estates to the ugly cult of precocious media celebrity. Peter himself is a flawed hero, and even teenage readers may feel that his long-suffering parents (one of whom is a detective sergeant) are too patient with his lies and irresponsibilities, though these are in the end all due to a desperate concern for his friend Raymond. The nature of true friendship is the core of the book. But it takes Peter, and the reader, into some very dark places of both body and mind. Black Rabbit Summer is a chilling and compelling novel.