IT IS 1968 in Bagneux, on the industrial outskirts of Paris, and twelve-year-old Gllles Gobain has already been through his fair share of trouble. His father, a vacuumcleaner salesman, slipped on a wet floor and died when Gilles was five; his sister is in a mental ward; the uncle who now lives with his mother drinks too much and lets the family business go down the drain; and his mother has given birth to a boy whose mental age can never develop beyond that of a three-month-old: 'It was very rare but it happened, like a tiny number of vacuum cleaners turned out to be faulty.' Or this is what Gilles thinks, for, as we gradually learn, all is not what it seerns. When Gilles and his mother get caught up in the May riots in Paris, further - and more shocking - secrets come out into the open.
If this sounds depressing, that's because it is, but Adam Thorpe also manages to make his novel curiously uplifting. We see everything through Gdles's eyes, and to him there is nothing especially strange about his family; indeed, he reckons that his best fiiend's family is almost as bad. Armed with