The Writers' Hub has become MIROnline. The site remains for archival purposes but will no longer be updated. Head over to our new website to see weekly short stories, poems and creative non-fiction from Birkbeck and beyond.
writers' hub
Alan Beard
Alan Beard

Born in Tewkesbury, Alan Beard, married with teenage daughters, has lived in Birmingham for twenty-five years. He works as a librarian for Birmingham City University and is secretary of a successful writers’ group. His stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and published in many literary magazines and anthologies in England and the USA. His previous  collection Taking Doreen out of the Sky (Picador) was widely praised

Click image to buy from Foyles
'If It Is Your Life' by James Kelman

Alan Beard

I knew I was going to enjoy this when I read the first sentence:

          When I presented myself at the Emergency section of the Social security Office I knew things could go wrong but I was not expecting a leg amputated. The protagonist then has the wrong leg of his trousers cut off and has to wear them back to front. That kind of hard Beckettian absurd humour is there throughout this book, in the ‘tramps’ who discuss the best way to start a fire, or the man who has to awkwardly carry a bike and open a gate at the same time. Kelman’s heroes are as usual Glaswegian working class men struggling with drink problems, the violence of others, bureaucracy or the burden of erotic desire. Very male – you hear in most stories that women are different, and many of the stories appear to be attempts to understand their (it is as if they are a different species) motivations: eg the naive student’s thoughts as he makes his way home to Glasgow on a coach from an English university where everybody – it becomes apparent – is rich (relatively), including his ‘girlfriend’ who may be using him as her ‘bit of rough’, and then there’s the man trying to persuade his ex to stop seeing a married man, and the husband who comes home early from his shift, and may have been sacked, but doesn't want to alarm his wife. Nearly all the pieces are ‘streams of consciousness’ mingled with dialogue and have no plot, the method is you sit inside the man’s head for a bit then it ends. Sounds uninviting maybe, and he won’t appeal to everyone, but the writing is marvellous: sweeping, accurate, albeit repetitive and sometimes - deliberately - awkward. I'd like to quote more but had to take my book back to the library.

 

There is a definite 80s/90s feel to the writing and concerns even though there is mention of mobile phones and social networking, another thing that may put people off. But along with the humour and political rant there is a great tenderness in these pieces, along with unending questions and philosophical debate, a search for understanding and a warmth that people don’t necessarily associate with Kelman (I think it has always been there). Above all it is funny, sweary, absurd, provoking, Kelman on top form.


COMMENTS

RELATED PIECES

No related pieces

POPULAR REVIEWS

The Folly by Ivan Vladislavic
Rebecca Rouillard
18.11.15

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Rebecca Rouillard
06.08.15

Twenty Books To Read This Summer
Rebecca Rouillard
06.08.15