Imran Mahmood: You Don’t Know Me
Published By: Michael Joseph
Buy It: here
What the Blurb Says:
It’s easy to judge between right and wrong – isn’t it?
Not until you hear a convincing truth.
Now it’s up to you to decide…
An unnamed defendant stands accused of murder. Just before the Closing Speeches, the young man sacks his lawyer, and decides to give his own defence speech.
He tells us that his barrister told him to leave some things out. Sometimes, the truth can be too difficult to explain, or believe. But he thinks that if he’s going to go down for life, he might as well go down telling the truth.
There are eight pieces of evidence against him. As he talks us through them one by one, his life is in our hands. We, the reader – member of the jury – must keep an open mind till we hear the end of his story. His defence raises many questions… but at the end of the speeches, only one matters:
Did he do it?
What I Say:
“Maybe it don’t matter who tells the story because there is no way of making a person understand what it is to be you”.
You Don’t Know Me is one of those books that had been on my radar for a while (it was a Radio 2 Book Club Choice), so half-term seemed a perfect time to sit and really take my time to read it. Unfortunately, it is not one of those books you want to slowly savour – it is a book you want to read and read until you can’t keep your eyes open, turning the pages until you find out what has happened. It is a fast paced, twisting turning novel that doesn’t stop pulling you along until the very last page – and then leaves you hanging on the precipice!
You Don’t Know Me tells the story of an unamed man who is on trial for murder. He decides to fire his barrister just before the closing arguments, and takes the decision to tell the jury his side of the story.
His story fills in the blanks for us – the everyday mundane and irrelevant, the things we don’t really need to know, but also the things that mean we are seeing a fully formed person in front of us as oppose to a representation skewed by legal arguments and cross-examination. – we listen to him talking to the jury and telling them everything that his barrister can’t possibly know.
He gives us not only a blow-by-blow account of how he ended up being tried for murder, but also a glimpse into the day-to-day reality of living in a world where the gang culture is everything. I have no experience of anything like this, and You Don’t Know Me was a huge learning curve. I had no idea how organised and structured this world is, how children are beguiled by the sense of belonging and having a family that always has your back, and that they can work their way up through the ‘ranks’ to become a pivotal member of the gang.
Belonging to, and being an active member of a gang is everything to many young people. It gives them not only a sense of identity, but a shared life experience and a belief that they are ultimately untouchable.
The narrator who has no legal experience meanders and goes off point, swears and apologises immediately and has to stop and explain the different terms and slang he uses to us. This serves to only make the monologue much more authentic and natural. We, the reader become the thirteenth member of the jury, and are drawn in to his story and start to realise that we are starting to make judgements and assumptions based on the evidence he is presenting us with.
We learn how he met his girlfriend Kira, and how their relationship seemed to be going well, she loves books, he loves working on his cars, they settle into a routine that seems to work. However, Kira’s brother, Spooks is in prison, scared for his own safety, and his fear means that he trades his sister’s wellbeing to ensure he is not touched in prison. Kira is forced to work the streets by a gang. Bereft at having lost his girlfriend, the defendant searches the streets until he finds her and takes her home, realising that she will never be the same again, shattered by what she has been forced to do with almost a weary acceptance as she wants her brother to be safe.
From this point on, You Don’t Know Me turns up the tension even further, as Kira and the defendant, along with Curt, his best friend, play a dangerous game with the gangs that surround them. A young man called JC, who is working for the Olders gang taunts the defendant that he knows Kira is back with him, and from that point on, a devastating chain of events is set into motion which means that our narrator is left alone to face a charge of murder.
The events that overtake the defendant, Kira, Curt and his family put them into situations that Imran describes so convincingly, you can feel their desperation and their desire to return back to the mundane and everyday that they longed to escape from. They realise that the grass is not always greener, and that they are completely subsumed in the gang culture that they are trying to escape.
You Don’t Know Me is a truly remarkable novel – the narrator holds the whole book together as he gives his impassioned closing speech to us, the jury. However, the freshness and the pace of Imran’s writing never flags, and you feel that you are sat in court watching this young man uncomfortably standing in front of us, trying to recall any tiny piece of information that could help prove his innocence. We are constantly forced to confront our preconceptions and beliefs as a young man asks us to look behind the case notes and judge him simply as a human being.
He stands in front of us, fallible, flawed and imperfect, but pleading with us to believe him. That is the crux of You Don’t Know Me, as Imran Mahmood presents us with no narrative other than that of the defendant, as you, the reader are finally asked – so, who do you believe?
I loved it.