Coconut Unlimited by Nikesh Shukla was nominated for the 2010 Costa First Novel Award. It tells the story of Amit, preparing for his wedding to Alice, Amit is visited by childhood friends Anand and Nishant and reminisces about their youth.
The novel reminded me a lot of Stephen Kelman's Pigeon English, like said novel, Coconut Unlimited is set within an immigrant community, Amit is first generation British and is of Gujarati heritage. Like Pigeon English the focus is on adolescence and the trials and tribulations of growing up. I failed to identify with Harrison Opoku and his friends in Pigeon English, their concerns and interests being somewhat post my era. With Coconut Unlimited however our protagonists are around age 15 in 1994, when I would have been 13, so there were aspects of their experience I could relate to.
On the one hand though Coconut Unlimited like Pigeon English offers a rare literary glimpse into a growing part of Britain's immigrant community, some stereotypes were in action. Amit and Anand for example are under intense pressure from their Indian parents to perform highly academically, a well known cliche. But, with this stereotype particularly it wouldn't have become such a cliche, if there wasn't some truth behind it. The school racism from both pupils and staff would still have been realistic around this time also, but Amit and his friends face the most ridicule for attempting to pretend they are of a different culture by getting into the rap and hip/hop scene and starting a hip/hop band. Amit's sister calls him a coconut "brown on the outside, white on the inside" and so the band Coconut Unlimited is born.
This concept of trying to find a subculture to be part of as a teen is very true to the teenage experience. I myself was into "indie" music and had a friend who was into the subculture which sprang up around Nirvana. Everytime you went into the city on Saturdays there were gangs of "goth" kids with skateboards being "alternative" outside Quiggins but also conforming to rules of their new tribe. So, whilst I wasn't into Nas, or Public Enemy or Tupac, I understood the nature and authenticity of the experience Shukla conveys. Though I am white I was also part of a minority and so I felt the realism of the outsider experience also.
Despite being a very identifiable piece about adolescent angst, Coconut Unlimited is frustrating as a novel because ultimately the plot goes nowhere and terminates abruptly, although many teenage bands and friendships do ebb away by nature I felt that neither the main book or the epilogue had a particularly erudite conclusion and it was somewhat disappointing, as were character outcomes.
It is a book I think many men of my age would enjoy reflecting as it does elements of the 90's teen experience but it isn't knock your socks off special and I wouldn't be in a huge rush to obtain it. It is fun and humourous but having made comparison to Pigeon English I would say the latter is the better written and more endearing work 6.5/10