Fiction & Biography
His third novel covers racial identity, the search for existential co- ordinates and Nazis getting blowjobs. But as Rodger Evans discovers, LUKE SUTHERLAND is just as busy working out which Rolling Stone he’s most like.
can‘t say too much about this.'
teases the author with a nod
and a conspiracy theory. ‘I don't want to spoil it for anybody bttt it was a story with a miraculous slant and it was obvious that the person who told me believed it to be true. It's quite mental.‘ (‘uriosity piqued? Well. the catalyst for Luke Sutherland‘s third book is something of a mystery but not in a crappy 'liiles' oft/1e Unexpeeterl way. More like Gabriel (iarcia Marquez relocating to ()rkney before seeking magic and metaphor in the London sex trade. ‘I guess it's a collaboration of sorts but I think less a collaboration between me and someone else as between me and somewhere else. That place being warped.‘
Sutherland‘s first novel. Jelly Roll. explored race and violence via the on-the-road exploits of a jazz band touring the Highlands. Sweet Meat. his second outing. dealt with love in its myriad shapes and sizes. Venus us a Boy is about how hard it is to be good and how easy it is to be bad while realising that the two concepts need not be exclusive. 'It becomes
very subjective.’ he says. citing the example of one of
his characters giving a former Nazi a blowjob that causes the recipient to see angels and believe in heaven. ‘I think the idea of good being relative runs all the way through the book.‘
Venus is passionate but maybe less angry than l998’s Jelly Roll. ‘1 don‘t think the emotion behind the narrative drive is one of anger: it could be read as low self—esteem. But I also think it‘s about searching for [IT'S A existential co-ordinates.' Which conjures up a picture of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir throwing back the Absinthe during a game of Battleships.
So what‘s the big idea here'.’ ‘The same thing. The thread that I think holds all of these books together is that they are against the idea of there being definitive notions of race. sexuality. nationality. culture.‘ Stereotypes? ‘Ultimately we‘re talking about constructs. were talking about ideas of order in the world that deny our contingency as human beings and our mortality.’
Despite his childhood here. Sutherland says he never considered himself Scottish. ()r linglish for that matter. Yet it was Scottish writing. particularly the
106 THE LIST 4 18 Mar 2001
COLLABORATION BETWEEN ME AND SOMEWHERE ELSE; THAT PLACE BEING WARPED'
Gabriel Garcia Marquez relocating to Orkney?
work of Janice (ialloway and James Kelman. that inspired him. ‘l)o they still? Yeah yeah yeah! Mostly for the impact they made on me when I first read them. I mean. they dizzy me for different reasons but they’re both giant.‘ It was also with the Scottish music scene —- founding and fronting Long l‘in Killie and his friendship-come-collaborations with Mogwai — that
he first came into view. All very post-rock (whatever
that might mean). In fact. there was a nice line in a
Sunday broadsheet's review of
Sweet Meat that compared Sutherland‘s storytelling ability to Keith Richards way with a riff. But perhaps he'd have preferred a reference to (‘harlie Watts'.’ The style and
swing of Jill]. over the
‘llow well put. I‘m probably with you at the end of the day on Charlie. I think drums are just incredible. Having said that. the idea of Keith is very appealing. very cool.‘ And Sutherland writes about cool like he writes about sex and wardrobes. With (klnobs on.
Venus as a Boy is published by Bloomsbury, Thu 18 Mar, £10.
swagger and savagery of
Classic novels revisited. This issue: How Late it Was. How Late.
Published Ten years ago.
What’s the story James Kelman's caustic. funny, imaginative vision of survival in a hideously bureaucratic world opens with Sammy, a Glaswegian petty criminal and expert shoplifter, waking up in a deserted lane following a two-day bender. Sammy's day goes from bad to bust when he is beaten up by the authorities and carted off to jail, waking up to discover that he is totally blind. The rest of the novel is narrated in earthy, unadulterated stream—of- consciousness as the increasingly deranged and powerless Sammy stumbles around a drizzly. dingy Glasgow. With a sawn-off mop handle his only means of self- defence, he goes in search of his missing girlfriend and some kind of recompense for his horrible plight.
What the critics said Newsweek described Kelman’s novel as ‘a tour de force . . . suggesting a Samuel Beckett nourished not on Proust and Joyce but on Waylon and Willie.‘ Despite rave reviews, the book struggled to find an audience in the United States of America.
Key moment The episode in which Sammy attempts to claim disability benefit but is thwarted by the questionable diagnosis of a doctor who refuses to admit he is blind. is a particularly acerbic prod at the country's welfare system and irritating bureaucratic red tape.
Postscript Following a famously heated behind—the-scenes debate. Kelman's novel became the first by a Scottish author to win the Booker prize.
First line test ‘Ye wake in a corner and stay there hoping yer body will disappear. the thoughts smothering ye.’ (Allan Radcliffe)
An acerbic prod at authority