Alexander McArthur and H. Kingsley Long - No Mean City: A Story of the Glasgow Slums (1935)

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Alexander McArthur and H. Kingsley Long - No Mean City: A Story of the Glasgow Slums (1935)

100 Best Scottish Books of all Time

This cutting edge portrait of working-class life in the worst laid scheme in Scotland sticks out like a sore face. Rarely referred to by its subtitle or complimented for its subtlety, when it was first published Glasgow libraries refused to stock it, while The Times Literary Supplement gave it a glowing review: 'Sometimes a "human document" finds its way into print, forcing itself on public attention by the sheer weight of its sincerity, in spite of literary failings. When such a document has artistic value, too, its importance is doubled. Mr Alexander McArthur, an unemployed worker in a Glasgow slum, with the help of Mr Kingsley Long, a London journalist, has produced such a book in No Mean City'.

Despite such highbrow endorsement this jaw-torn tale fell victim to the mean streak of snobbery that disfigures Scotland more than any razor's edge. Dismissed by the small coterie, the book they couldn't bury became a byword for red-raw Clydeside, the nitty-gritty Glasgow of the Gorbals. It deals in dialect and docudrama with a community living on a knife-edge as violence rips it apart. In a world where poverty slices deeper than any flesh wound, it takes more than a sewing machine to make ends meet. Johnnie Stark, the serrated story's young blade, carries out compulsory cosmetic surgery. He's no angel, nor working-class hero, but his brother Peter grasps the nettle of class struggle. How many Scottish novels discuss the great socialist teacher John MacLean? Damn few, and they're all out of print.

McArthur and Long's study of scarcity and scar culture has survived the 'Glasgow's Miles Better' facelift. Its authors sound like a songwriting duo and fittingly, their title lends itself to the theme tune of Taggart. Maggie Bell's rasping rendition, more broken bottle than cut glass, captures beautifully the brutal brio of the book.

100 Best Scottish Books of all Time

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Comments

1. Crusty24 Feb 2010, 6:27am Report

I read this book when I was 15 (I'm now 62) I've read it again several times, and I don't know a single Scot. who hasn't read it or at least heard of it. It's a classic account of desperate people struggling to escape from abject poverty. Don't read it if you look for happy endings, but do if you want to experience some superb writing and an insight into Glasgow's meaner side.

2. Wee para15 Apr 2010, 10:42pm Report

I read this book many years ago and having lived in the area the book describes, Salisbury Street in the Gorbals, I found it a very hard book to put down. I am now 74 and wish I could lay my hands on the book again. Another good book is "Cut and Run" I think the writers name was McGhee

3. Josephine9 Nov 2010, 12:25pm Report

I read this book in 1945 when I was 10. I found it very powerful even at my age and I would like to read it again. I recently went to the National Theatre in Loondon to see Men Should Weep which is based on life in the Glasgow tenements in the 1930s. Can you still buy it?

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