An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Book Review: A Disaffection by James Kelman

There are a number of ways to write a book review but by and large I stick to the simple, selfish formula: I write reviews in a straightforward way that I would like to read. I like to read reviews that allow me to make up my own mind about whether what's reviewed is for me or not. Mostly that suits me: I have no axe to grind - I'm just telling the reader what I thought of a book.

This time though I have an axe - I really want you to read this book - I want to share it with you - this is a great book, not just a good book but a great book. This book demonstrates what the new novel can be - should be. Kelman is a true successor to Joyce and Beckett: he is the British Sorrentino but whereas it is difficult to find Sorrentino's influence flowing through American literature Kelman's legacy is set already with writers like Agnes Owens, Roddy Doyle and Irving Welsh.

I could bore you with a list of writers who influenced Kelman directly or indirectly but that would be pointless, simply accept that Kelman did not arrive at his style from nowhere, a broad wealth of British experimentation with the novel preceded his breakthrough.  

Kelman uses dialect (Glaswegian) and vernacular throughout his prose and not just in the dialogue which is possibly difficult for anybody who has never heard a Scots accent but for those who have it is a simple matter to read tricky bits out loud to understand. HIs eye and his ear are nearly 20/20 and pitch perfect and, although there is little in the way of plot there is such a wealth of insight and nuance that one sometimes has to consciously draw breath and take pause to digest.

He has one ploy that I particularly enjoy and that is to have his protagonist form and partly answer a question (usually about himself or his trajectory) and then leave the reader to complete the response for himself or herself - in this way Kelman draws the reader into the very soul of the protagonist and by the end of this wonderful novel you have a very good understanding of the very  nature of disaffection.

Kelman is very good and this is a fine example of the modern novel - I urge you to read it.

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