Strong language

<strong>A Clockwork Apple</strong>

Belinda Webb <em>Burning House, 320pp, £7.99</em>

Belinda Webb's debut novel is a remarkably confident piece of writing. A gender-swapped take on Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, it is bold in its aims.

The novel is set in a future Manchester where violent gangs of teenage girls roam the streets. Alex and her Grrlz are the menace of Moss Side, and anyone who exists outside their world, anyone who has a little money or education, is likely to receive a kicking care of their ballet pumps.

After a break-in at the Mrs Gaskell Academy for Girls goes sour, Alex is arrested and jailed. In prison, she is entered into a rehabilitation programme in order to fast-track her back into society.

There is something both audacious and yet oddly hollow about such a blatant homage. Webb delights in playing linguistic games and riffs continually on Burgess's teenspeak, creating her own urban vocabulary. Every word is made to matter; she dissects some and merges others, revelling in the potential of language. Her female-centric future is vividly rendered, peppered as it is with cultural references, Manchester slang and Morrissey lyrics.

But though the language does dazzle and excite, Alex remains too impenetrable a character and the novel feels increasingly like a stylistic exercise – although, admittedly, an accomplished one.