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Edinburgh writer Brian McCabe’s first novel, The Other McCoy, is about a stand-up comedian with a graveyard slot who sells spy-holes to make ends meet. Julie Morrice examines the psyche of the Scottish novelist.
On the way to the pub the other night, I peeked over a wall at the back of Dublin Street. That, I said, nodding at a rubble ofshadows, is
where McCoy lives.
If Brian McCabe became our other national bard, and his first novel. The Other McCoy, a classic text, then visitors to Edinburgh could follow his hero‘s progress around the city as faithfully as celebrants of Bloomsday zigzag across Dublin.
The Other McCoy is rooted firmly in its author’s home city, not in some unidentifiable suburb, but slap in the cold heart ofthe place. McCoy‘s territory is the well-trodden square mile of the city centre and. like broken-off car aerials marking the homeward journey of a drunk, landmarks such as the Cafe Royal and the Tollcross clock chart his
stumbling voyage through the Edinburgh psyche.
‘I did want to write a novel set firmly in Edinburgh. I suppose I‘d got to the point where this responsibility ofplace hit me, and I felt it was time I should at least attempt it,’ says McCabe. Like Joyce, he found that distance from his setting helped him see it more clearly, and much of the Edinburgh material was written in Canada, where he was on a Scottish Arts Council‘s fellowship. For all its
realism, however, The Other McCoy
is a richly imaginative work. capturing the bizarre in the everyday. and evoking the surreal
detachment which can surprise the most sober citizen when he steps outside his familiar rut into the world he thought he knew.
It is a tragi-comic novel. finding humour in the depths ofdespair and needless tragedy where any race other than the Scots would achieve at least a certain equilibrium ofspirit. ‘I think we, and I include myselfin this, we in Edinburgh suffer more from inhibitions and repressions and Calvinistic horrors.‘ McCabe's hero is, he says. by no means a typical Edinburgher or a typical Scot. ‘but he has certain features that might have national applications. Like the fact that he's a compulsive mimic;
The List 4 — 17 May 1990 89