'A genuinely impressive debut. Boxer Handsome does everything great fiction should... revealing a world that most people will never even think about. If you can't see what it is that people need from boxing, or why it somehow persists into the 21st century, then read this' -- Guardian
Boxing runs in Bobby’s blood. His Irish dad was a boxer. So was his Jewish grandfather. Yanked up by their collars at Clapton Bow Boys Club, taught how to box and stay out of trouble.
So Bobby knows he shouldn’t be messing in street brawls a week before his big fight with Connor ‘the Gypsy Boy’, an Irish traveller from around the way. They’re fighting over Theresa: a traveller girl with Connor’s name all over her. But Bobby’s handsome, like his dad; boxer handsome.
Set against the backdrop of contemporary East-End London, Boxer Handsome is an unsung hymn to tribal boxing history and to an angry and austere Britain, a community up against itself, ‘all fighting a corner; all fighting for space. All up for a fight.’
For Bobby, the ring is everywhere and he can’t afford to lose.
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A genuinely impressive debut. Boxer Handsome does everything great fiction should, offering up characters who stay with the reader long after the end of the book, giving an almost filmic vision of places and people, and revealing a world that most people will never even think about. If you can't see what it is that people need from boxing, or why it somehow persists into the 21st century, then read this. - Guardian
Anna Whitwham's first novel does not read like a first novel. It is lean, polished and fit as its subject. The pleasure of reading the book is the sense throughout of a safe pair of hands at work on an unsafe subject – and a challenging city. This is a less-written-about London: depressed, tough and gallant (one can imagine it as a film by Ken Loach). - Observer, Debut Authors of 2014
Bristles with machismo... The prose – punchy and pungent – and Boby’s terse, frustrated voice keep you in your ringside seat - New Statesman
A familial connection gives this exciting debut an authenticity, which allied to a confident writing style, suggestsWhitwham has a promising future ahead of her. Whitwham's writing is as sharp as a one-two combination, short punchy sentences that capture effectively the brooding atmosphere of the East End. But the book is tender, too, a change of pace that deepens the emotional resonance of the characters. A promising debut. - Independent
A raw and bloody book... Whitwham is an accomplished writer with a gift for description... I expect this will be the first of many novels from her. Boxer Handsome is powerful if gruelling. - Evening Standard
This story is just as much about territory and escaping who you are, as it is about boxing. Full of sober realism and broken dreams, she's got the sort of narrative that would make Shane Meadows sit up. - The Times
A powerful debut from a talented new writer, filled with blood, sweat and tears. - Stylist, Best Books of 2014
Bare-knuckle fiction – tough, tender and lyrical. A fine first novel - JOHN KING, author of The Football Factory
A tremendous debut -- lean but capacious, elegant but tough, tempered but resonant. It marks the arrival of an important new talent. - Andrew Motion
Anna Whitwham's own East Side Story, set between two rival families in Clapton, is a vivid evocation of the worlds of old and new London, of the tribal immigrant experience built between boxing gym, tenement and canal bank. By turns brutal and beautiful, tender and dangerous, Boxer Handsome is a visceral and luminous debut. - Cathi Unsworth, author of Weirdo
Boxer Handsome is a story told in hope's shadow, where life, organised and disorganised, scars. This is a compelling novel - brutal, tender and true. - Joe Stretch, author of Friction and The Adult
So good it hurts. Anna Whitwham joins the very best to have written about boxing: F.X. Toole, Joyce Carol Oates, Harry Crews and Norman Mailer. - Nick Stone, boxer and author of Mr Clarinet
Anna Whitwham's debut novel doesn't pull its punches. Well-written and worth watching - Independent
Rich in detail and elegantly written... Whitwham has considerable talent - Sunday Telegraph
The fights are described in glorious visceral detail but this unconventional love story is just about the ducks and dives as much as it is about the hits and wins. Whitwham's East Side Story packs a punch, and is a knockout debut her family could only be proud of - UK Press Syndication
Here is a book that deals with its milieu head-on, and doesn't shrink from demonstrating that the ill-health and trauma experienced in these communities is genuine... This is a book that is truly written from within, and is therefore a powerful antidote to the snobbery infecting much of the clamour around how a large section of society is portrayed - CultureCompass
Impressive… Gives voice to the furious, restrained beauty inherent in rigid masculinity… Whitwham certainly packs a punch - Upcoming
Bristles with machismo... The prose – punchy and pungent – and Bobby’s terse, frustrated voice keep you in your ringside seat - New Statesman
About the Author
Anna Whitwham was born in 1981 in London, where she still lives. She studied Drama and English at the University of California, Los Angeles, Queens University Belfast and at Royal Holloway, London. Boxer Handsome is her first novel. It is a world Anna knows well: her grandfather, John Poppy, was a young featherweight boxer at Crown & Manor Boys Club in Hoxton. He is the inspiration behind this book.