Fiction & Biography
And The Judges Said . . . (Seeker 8. Warburg $217.99) .0
Another review elsewhere in the magazine points out that just because you agree with someone’s politics doesn’t mean that you have to admire them as creative talents. Ken Loach is the social commentator in question there, but much the same could be said of Glasgow rabble rouser James Kelman.
With his expansive critical and fictional back catalogue such as his Booker-winning tale How Late It Was, How Late, Kelman has made capital out of shaking up the status quo and upsetting the establishment with his musings on the beaten generations of Britain, America and the world.
It’s been hard for anyone of a leftish persuasion to disagree with much he has been saying, but when you put the sum of his parts together in a collection like this, you are worn down by the all-too predictability of his assaults and the often near childish style of his delivery. OK, some of these addresses are aimed at teenagers, but that’s no excuse.
In the essay ‘Elitism And English Literature, Speaking As A Writer’, Kelman states (over and over and over again) that just because we are told a writer is good and an essential
read (an accusation he flings at literature academics the world over) doesn’t make them so. And if they’re a horrible fascist like Evelyn Waugh or TS. Eliot, you can’t
trust the paper they’ve written on.
Unfortunately, with this bunch of essays, speeches and half-finished polemics from 1983 onwards, much the same can be said of James Kelman: as part of the Caledonia canon, we are expected to feel his quality on every page. The truth couldn’t be further off.
Still, maybe the world really is as cut and dried as Kelman makes out and anyone who suggests that life may be more complicated is simply muddying the waters, creating divisions and trampling upon the rights of anyone
not in the loop of privilege and power.
In Kelman’s world, the vast majority of white people are evil racists and the non-white masses are innocent,
Tori inritti’ just dump it...
A fizzy cocktail of intrigue
102 THE LIST 2/"; Ma' '1 1. Apr 7032’
| . .o “\ .‘ ‘| Kelman indulges in sweeping simplicities
gullible victims. Certainly, institutionalised and social racism exist in all western civilisations but it may have been intriguing to have had a chapter or two on the
‘gullibility’ and ‘innocence’ behind the Lockerbie
bombings and the events of last September.
This collection, though, prefers to live in the past. A past where the British state ‘conjures up the evil tyranny’ of Saddam Hussein to oppress its own population. But who exactly was it participating in the slaughtering of all those Kurds Kelman seeks to speak out for? Just who is conjuring up the monsters here?
In the preface, an old African proverb is quoted that states that ‘unity chops elephants’. No, me neither. Yet, a
little more of that fascinating ambiguity and less of the
CONTEMPORARY lllRlUl‘R EMILY BARR Baggage (Review 5.? t 0.9m 0.0
As travel correspondent for newspapers like the Guardian and Observer. Emily Barr had the rnost enviable JOl) in
journalism. traipsing fron‘ desert to jungle
to rainforest. and even spending two on The Beach with Leonardo Di Caprio.
Having retired from this exhausting vocation at the decrepit age of 28. Barr turned to fiction: her debut Backpack was the enjoyable. undemanding tale of a young EllgllSSll‘.'.’()li‘.£tll who sets out to swan around Asia. and becomes einl;roiled in a series of murders. The follow-up is much the same fix/y cocktail of intrigue. seiitinientality and exotic climes.
Barr's tall story opens with a portrait of ostensibly norn‘al fan‘in life in the Pritchett househoid: there's mum l.ina lnewly pregnant. dad Tony and model son Red. living happily in the tiny Australian outback (I()lllll‘llllll‘,’ ol Craggy
sweeping simplicities here would have made this collection more bearable. (Brian Donaldson)
Rock. A chance meeting at a '.'.'()(l(lllig brings Lina into abrupt contact ".‘Jllll an unsavouiy past.
Respectahie Lina Pritehett. :t seems. is actually Daisy Fraser a fugitive from England via/here she is v'xanted in connection with four deaths. As the secret is discovered. the world's press descends -.)n the town. to'eng Lina to admit that e\.'en.vthing about ner life down under is a lie.
lt's Impossible to dislike Ba'i‘s chatty. infectious prose style. The plot is compelling and the hook is invested ‘-.'.’|Ill a strong sense of place. It's Just a pity that .Sarr couidn't have turned her eye for detail to her characters who. with Me exception of Daisy Lina. are excrumatmgly stereotyped, particulaiu. the Craggy residents. lit/hen lina reveals that she learned her Aussie qualities watching /\"(}l_(}/?/)()UI'S. you begin to wonder if that was the extent at Barr's own research for this novel.
Classic novels revrsrted. This issue: The Secret Agent
Published 95 years ago. What’s the story Subtitled 'A Simple Tale', this is Joseph Conrad's only novel set in London. Adolf Verloc is a deuble agent employed by the Russen embassy to spy On a fanatical revolutionary grOLip. which meets at his Soho stationery shop. In order to expose the anarchists. the ambassador coerces Verloc into carrying out a series of bombings. the first on Greenwich ObservaIOry. Verloc persuades his simple brother-in-law Stevie to plant the bomb. only for the device to explode prematurely when Stevie stumbles over a tree root. This event sets everyone On the path to destruction.
What the critics said ‘lndubitably a claSSic and a masterpiece. was the assessment of FR Leavis. Key moment When the Wily Chief Inspector Heat reports the explosion in Greenmch Park to Verloc and his Wife Winnie. he clearly relishes the grisly details of Stevie's demise: ‘Limbs. gravel. Clothing. bones. splinters: all mixed up together. I tell you they had to fetch a shovel to gather him up with' Postscript The Secret Agent. like most of Conrad '5; great novels. was ignored by the public on its release. Conrad ‘.'/as eventually acclaimed as the most original prose writer of his day. a remarkable feat fer an author who had never heard English spoken until the age of 21.
First line test ‘lvlr Verloc. going out in the morning. left the shop llOlllillaH‘,’ in Charge of his bi'otherin lav-x." iAllan Radcliffei
umru‘xi t M .x