0 A Chancerlamcs Kelman (Polygon. £9.95). The Booker Prize presentation dinner is an occasion for silly speeches. None was sillier than Richard (‘obb‘s last year. Reﬂecting upon the enormity of the judges‘ task he said. "There is even a novel written entirely in what appears to be Glaswegian. Lacking a dictionary I soon gave up!‘
No names. no pack drill. but north of Hadrian‘s Wall we knew that he was referring toJames Kelman‘s The Bus Conductor Hines. Now Kelman has published a second novel. A Chancer. which. like Hines. is more concerned with form and style than plot. and is written in — not what appears to be but most definitely is — echtGlaswegian.
Tammas is the chancer in question. Nearing twenty he is a loner and a compulsive gambler. He bets variously and whenever he can afford the stake. When he‘s broke he takes to his bed. to sleep or read an unspecified book. or raids the meter. He is allergic to work.
His life centres on the drab Simpson's Bar. with its coterie of dour drinkers. home with his sister
James Keiman weighs his chances.
and brother-in-law. Shawfield dog track. betting shops and snooker halls. When the betting shops close. he frequents casinos. occasionally he has a day at the races. At Ayr he meets Vi. a single parent living in a single-end. with whom he has a spasmodic affair.
He is laconic and inarticulate. a Clint Eastwood rather than an Oscar Wilde among conversationalists. Most of his sentences fade into three dots. . . and his favourite word is ‘fuck‘ which he employs ceaselessly and adapts with invention. For three hundred pages we tail him through a dreich Glasgow winter. always hoping that when he backs a winner he will pocket the proceeds and quit when he‘s on top. Ofcourse he never does— this is real life not fiction — and when we leave him he is hitching out of Glasgow on a lorry London-bound.
Few writers could pull off such a non-event but Kelman does. though there are moments when the book seems to be going round in circles. Remarkably. for one who has written so little (apart from the novels he has a collection of short stories. No! Not While the Giro and Lean Tales which he shares with
Alasdair Gray and Agnes Owens). his work is immediately recognisable. his ironic clipped-style as patent as Hemingways‘. Nothing is explained or embroidered. nothing. not even book titles or television programmes. is allowed to interfere with Tammas’ miserable routine. His is a joyless. ordinary life, of the type rarely described between hard covers. Perhaps that is what kept me turning the pages for it affords a glimpse ofa nether world which most of Kelman‘ readers would never wish to experience. Here a population of human ﬂotsam and jetsam eke their way via dowts and pints towards the next giro. It is a foreign country on our doorstep and one which Kelman knows intimately. The language is peculiar but faintly reminiscent and is no barrier to understanding. Familiarity with the rules ofchemin defer or even dominoes is desirable but not essential. In such milieu Tammas is a polyglot. Elsewhere he is at sea. an outsider and ultimately a loser. This is obvious long before the end ofA Chancer and although compression
' might have made it a tighter. more
artful book, it acquires power as if by prolonging the agony. (Alan Taylor).
0 The Third Llie ol Grange Copeland Alice Walker (The Women‘s Press. £3.95). ‘Shit! Nobody’s as powerful as we make them out to be. We got our own souls. don‘t we?‘ The power of the soul. its grace and patience. is the theme of Alice Walker‘s first novel, now finally available in the UK. As in her Pulitzer Prize winner The Colour Purple (soon to be a Spielberg film). Alice Walker involves the reader in a story of black spiritual strength. Like an extended Blues song, The Third Life of Grange Copeland sings of women who lose their men to poverty. racism and misplaced pride. yet have the love to understand and forgive all weaknesses.
The lasting impression is that the men are the real victims. forced to live in the masculine society of the American South but denied the basic dignities which promote emotional growth. Grange and his son Brownfield destroy their own happiness. learn the emptiness of hatred and brutalise their women in the pursuit of manliness. But as Grange recognises near the end of his life ‘. . . where was the man in me that let me sneak off. never telling her nothing about where I was going. never telling her I forgave her, never telling her how wrong I was myself?
Walker calls her writings ‘womanist‘ . a term which conveys a concern for both sexes under a common oppression. In this novel the reader experiences pity and interest for all the characters. although there can be no doubt that the women are the prime sufferers with the greatest ability to cope. The beauty ofthis kind of feminist literature is that nothing is simplified by side taking; good versus evil, female versus male. The complexity of feeling is what stops the reader asking why a woman stays with a
man who gives her nothing but big bellies and bruises. Mem stays with Brownfield because she loves him and believes that ifshe treats him like a man he‘ll become one. She‘s wrong. of course, and Brownfield later admits. ‘Her weakness was forgiveness, a stupid beliefthat kindness can convert the enemy!’ The horror and despair of Alice Walker‘s fiction is relentless but done without exaggeration to make a point. The narrative unfolds with a speed which doesn‘t stop until the final word. The Third Life ofGrange Copeland is a novel for anyone who wants an unsentimental view of the Black experience in America and a clue to where human dignity is found. (Tami Cushing-Allan).
0 Notes oi a Native Son James Baldwin (Pluto Press. £3.95). Powerful protest essays ﬁrst published in 1955.
o A Storm irom Paradise Stuart Hood (Carcanet. £8.95). Another squat in the House with the Green Shutters but with the ﬂavoursome introduction ofa Russian exile. Marxist history given a novel interpretation.
0 The Therapy oi Avram Biol: Simon Louvish (Heinemann. £9.95). A complicated. picaresque. self-conscious Jewish novel.
0 The Blg Man William McIlvanney (Hodder, £8.95). Dan Scoular— the Big Man — fights bare knuckle for money and a way of life. Verbal fireworks.
0 From Time to Time: Selected Poems William Montgomerie (Canongate. £4.95). First major collection by the former editor of Lines Review. Why have we had to wait so long?
0 Beyond the Dragon's Mouth Shiva Naipaul (Abacus. £3.95). Beautifully poised autobiography. stories and reportage by the Trinidadian author who died earlier this year.
0 The Conversations of a Cow Suniti Namjoshi (The Women‘s Press. £2.95) Disputatious dialogue between ‘an average middle-of-the-road lesbian separatist‘ and ‘a Brahmin lesbian cow.‘ Unusual.
O Elghtsome Reel Magda Sweetland (MacMillan. £9.95). Crafted blockbuster with Edinburgh and Canadian settings.
0 The Diaries oi Auberon Waugh: A Turbulent Decade 1976-1985 Auberon Waugh (Private Eye/Andre Deutsch, £4.95). In the author‘s own modest words ‘Not since Shakespeare‘s first folio appeared in 1622 has there been anything like it.’ Many a true word.
The List 4— l 7 October 41