Love is a Verb
Even with only two books published so far, A.L. Kennedy has already established an impressive reputation. Sue Wilson met one of Scotland’s brightest literary talents.
Being named on Granta‘s recent list of the twenty best young British novelists before you‘ve even published a novel is quite a coup. but Dundee—born. Glasgow-based author AI. Kennedy doesn‘t seem one to do things by halves. Her first book. the short- story collection Night Geometry and the Gurseadtlen Trains won no less than three major literary prizes in 1991. and her debut novel. loo/tine For the Possible Dance abundantly fulfils that early promise.
‘lt’s such a cliché that love is something you tall in, or give to someone, as it it was a thing, but it’s a verb - you have to do something.’
Told in a series of intercuts between past and present. framed by a train journey from Glasgow to London. it tells the story of a young Glaswegian community worker. Margaret. trying to figure out how to grow up; struggling to make sense of herself. herjob and her relationships with two men: her father. now dead. who brought her up alone. and her lover. Colin. It‘s about the sheer bloody hard work entailed in being a thinking. feeling. caring
A.l.. Kennedy. ‘l’m quite cheery myselt — all the nasty things come out in my writing.’
‘I wanted to show that there‘s a limit to closeness.‘ says Kennedy. ‘How do you say when you feel very deeply about someone if you‘re not a poet. or even particularly articulate? It‘s such a cliche that love is something you fall in. or give to someone. as if it was
. a thing. but it‘s a verb — you have to do something.
and you have to ﬁgure out how to do it.‘ In Kennedy‘s book (as it were). the attitudes towards children entrenched in Scottish schools are
any more. they won‘t give you answers because
they‘re scared of being wrong — and that can stay forever.‘ Kennedy‘s own recovery seems to be progressing
not too badly; she has described herself as ‘without . pets. dependants or houseplants. single. with few
hobbies apart from writing and playing the banjo‘. she works during the day running drama and creative
writing workshops and says she has ‘a wonderful
' life‘. Why. then. is her writing often so sombre. with dark. dark twists like the couple of terrible. appalling : things that happen to people in the novel. the ends of
individual. in fending off the ‘huge. alarming. unnatural peace that grew out of irrelevance and defeat‘. It‘s a stark. tough novel, dealing face-on with
responsible for much of this emotional assault- course. Margaret‘s education was ‘in no way remarkable‘ but she. ‘like many others, will take the
the uncomfortable fact that life can be an utter bastard. that it can be exhaustingly difficult to be the person you want to be. But the conviction which drives the narrative — though you have to struggle to feel alive. feeling genuinely alive is worth an awful lot of struggle — makes it immensely life-affirming at the same time.
‘I can only speak about it from the way I am.‘ Kennedy says. ‘I don‘t like having bad feelings. but I like having feelings. experiencing things. I don‘t like being numb. And I hate it when people are sort of pretty about life. when things are censored.‘
Kennedy explores the unspoken edges of relationships with extraordinary astuteness and sensitivity; the points at which people confront the reality of their ultimate. unalterable separateness and wrestle with the words. and gestures which can never. quite. close the gap. However deeply Margaret loves her father. she cannot prevent the pain he feels at losing the dependent child she once was; the fact that she thinks she wants to Spend the rest of her life with Colin does not make their relationship straightforward. does not stop them hurting each other.
rest of her life to recover' from what Kennedy. in a blackly comic passage which carries a distinct whiff I of old scores being settled. calls: ‘The Scottish I method for the perfection of children‘. This incorporates such doctrines as: ‘The history. language and culture of Scotland do not exist. If they did. they would be of no importance and might as well not . . . Pain and fear will teach us to hurt and petrify ourselves. thus circumventing further public expense . . . Joy is ﬂeeting. sinful and the forerunner of despair.‘
‘At the time that‘s exactly how it felt. that's absolutely how it felt.‘ Kennedy says. ‘lt‘s: don‘t talk; we don‘t want to know what you think. unless you‘re doing exams when we expect you suddenly to become very articulate; we don‘t like you. children aren‘t nice; fun is bad. guilt is good. Some people it affects less — I was grossly. ridiculously affected by 3 it; I was just a terribly sensitive. easily squashed anarchist in a very old-fashioned school. But I do that bit at readings and everybody identifies with it. it‘s terrible — I work with children. and they think so : wonderfully. then they pass this stage when they get I to be seven. eight. and you can't ask them questions
' chains of events someone has inadvertently set in
Kennedy explores the unspoken edges of relationships with extraordinary astuteness and sensitivity
‘I think it‘s a product of being quite cheery myself -— all the nasty things come out in my writing.‘ she says. ‘Also. I like the idea of coincidences. though I don‘t believe in them. It‘s like that guy Feynman. the physicist. he talked about being a bug on a swimming pool. and trying to work out from the bug‘s point of view what the water is. why it moves the way it does. the shape of the pool — we're all just bugs on swimming pools and we don‘t know: maybe it‘s coincidence. maybe it‘s the hand of God. Ijust like the idea that you do every so often get these wild things coming along. wild cards.‘
Looking For the Possible Dance is published by Seeker & Warhurg at f 7. 99
Troll; ‘13—'33 iégsaar. 1993 65