James Kelman - If it is Your Life (3 stars)

James Kelman - If it is Your Life

(Hamish Hamilton)

James Kelman’s fiction is a safehouse for the dispossessed and downtrodden; a soft and sympathetic place where the homeless, limbless or loveless find refuge. This short story collection from the Glaswegian socialist is typically lacking in sugar coating. We meet an old man, lying in hospital, guiltily lusting after the nurses in ‘as if from nowhere’, and, equally cheerily, another patient slipping out of consciousness in ‘Death is not’.

While the subject matter is as grimly gloss-free as previous novels A Chancer or Kieron Smith, Boy, the short format lends a sort of time-delay effect. His brief glimpses at a separated couple meeting up for a strained drink (‘A Sour Mystery’) or a gaffer-hating factory worker (‘talking about my wife’) seem at first like Kelman’s usual disjointed streams of thought. Given time, though, the stories creep up later when the book has been put down, revealing sad and awkward truths.


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