MOST OF THE events of this intellectually robust, densely written novel take place in the 1970s. First opencast mining and then the building of a new town around a vast steelworks have transformed the once pretty little village of Corby into what Burnside depicts, with ferocious vigour, as an anteroom to hell. The first two-thirds of the book - before the plot takes one of its two main characters, Francis, away into a less grim and grimy outside world - dwell on how the lurid glare of the furnaces and the omnipresent smell and taste of metal dominate the lives of the inhabitants.
Most of these inhabitants are not indigenous to the place but have been lured there by the promise of better houses, higher wages and steady employment. Among them are Scots, Irish and immigrant families. As Burnside describes their stunted, often violent lives, it becomes clear that all of them have escaped hm one prison only to find themselves in another. Typical are the families of teenage Francis and his closest fiiend Jan. Francis's father and mother have, with their two children, come south to Corby from Scotland. Materially they have improved their circumstances; but they constantly hanker for