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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Saturday, November 8, 2014

On the outside: A highly unconventional story collection from James Kelman

James Kelman, Scottish fiction writer and controversial Booker winner some years back, is definitely not for everyone and, in large doses, probably not for anyone - but he has created a style and world view all his own and is one of the few and one of the best at getting into the mind and consciousness of outsiders and the marginal. First few stories in his late 80s collection with the odd title of Greyhound for Breakfast (I don't know, you tell me) show his talent at its apex (or nadir, depending on your point of view): some a very short almost sketches, two among the first 30 pp or so are longer and more like conventional short stories, at least in magnitude: Old Francis and Renee. Each is the  sole consciousness in these first-person narrations. Kelman gets at the ebb and flow of cognition as well as anyone since Joyce, as he has us follow the characters through a few days, or in the case of OF, in a few minutes. We see the struggles of their lives (the narrator in Renee is a Scotsman working a fairly menial job in London and squatting in the factory or warehouse or institution - hard to know - where he works; story is about his awkward by finally successful attempt to get together with a co-worker, the eponymous Renee - another young person far from hom and just barely getting by in the big city; Old Francis, a Glaswegian, like most Kelman narrators and characters, tells his own story, his confrontation with a trio of toughs who rough him up a bit as he's sitting on a park bench). These stories are at times crude and vulgar, but also deeply sensitive to the hard life and times of the characters; he's not interested in presenting a view of an entire society, nor in the conventional resolutions typical of English fiction over the years - growth and maturation of an outsider narrator who eventually is incorporated into or welcomed by or even elevated within conventional society and class structure, cf Copperfield, Tom Jones, et al - but rather a rogue's gallery showing the lives of the bystanders, each with his or her own histories, traumas, hopes, and dreams - even if the dream is just to get by.

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