Canongate , 240 pages , £5.99 , PB
“Mind you, novels are all shite to me . . . Novels are all padding – they’re clearly objectionable.” P Reekie
Scottish fiction crashed onto a moribund book scene in the Nineties – a refreshing burst of new talent that made books suddenly cool to read again and made bibliophobes suddenly get a taste for literature, despite the almost aggressively unconventional manner of telling the tale. Popularist and avant garde? Surely not. This selection of six short stories/novellas are all linked by a common bond – a basic blokeishness that makes them easy to read, provided they are tackled correctly. The best way then to approach this collection is as though it’s an adult Jackanory – most of the tales cry out to be read aloud, preferably with numerous pauses for the teller to quaff from a sticky pint glass. They speak with a voice that needs to be audibly heard – so read them through your ears, and not through your eyes.
“Pop Life” tells the tale of three friends linked by their monthly music meetings. Their basic blokeish natures lead them through difficult emotional paths (where emotion cannot, of course, be directly expressed) when one of their number becomes suddenly incapacitated forcing a re-evaluation of their friendship and their ritualistic meetings.
“After the Vision” is an extract from the novel The Far Places. Scorgie is wandering around Glasgow in his diving suit trying to find a place to crash the night before getting an early train. What follows is a mini road movie of chance encounters, narrow escapes and bizarre but all too real incidents. The colloquial style drifts from third to first person without effort and again would be an ideal piece to be recounted aloud. For all the claims that this book represents cutting edge fiction its real “shock” value lies in the day-to-day urban tough normality base that provides it more of an oral tradition. This is the real shock – ordinary language used in an ordinary way. Minimal punctuation and intuitive word flow replace “crafted” and often banal language of “traditional” books.
In James Meek’s “The Brown Pint of Courage” we are shown (partly) the workings of that much maligned occupation – the traffic warden. But instead of judging or providing a linear voice for his characters Meek sets up a series of interlocking vignettes that tie them together with bonds more bizarre than initially appears. Meek’s skewed view of the world makes his characters feel distant from reality as the whole story plays like a game of go – a metaphor that works both structurally as well as invading the characters’ spaces. An easy to read, amusing but complex tale that rewards many re-readings – easily the highlight of the book.
Further links between words and meaning are provided by Paul Reekie whose story “Submission” chronicles S&M literature and its history within the context of a relationship with Kelly, a sexually voracious woman of some adventures. The merging of academic and street language contrasts in the manner of the literature discussed.
Further sexual shenanigans surface in Laura Hird’s “The Dilating Pupil” which follows the achingly frustrating adventures of a teacher battling his consciousness with his natural urges when a gorgeous pupil seduces him on her sixteenth birthday. Much misadventure and substance abuse entails.
Finally Irvine Welsh gives us the “The Rosewell Incident”, which finally answers one of the big ‘whys’ of modern culture: why do aliens always land in US deserts and target American farmers for experimentation? Welsh’s aliens abduct a Scot who’s keen to use their knowledge to shag as many women as he can, even if his clothes remain distinctly eighties. “-Ay yir fuckin weapons, their fuckin nowt against us, eh.” declares the invading alien to the UN. Now that’s a take over!
Any Cop?: Children of Albion Rovers offers a crackin’ read for those seeking a quick resolution. It manages to be accessible, thought-provoking and intelligent.