Luke Sutherland - Jelly Roll (1998)
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
The manner of his prose has been compared to Keith Richards' way with a riff. However, one suspects Luke Sutherland would probably prefer a nod to Charlie Watts, the author's penchant being for the style and swing of jazz over the swagger and savagery of rock'n'roll. Appropriately, having also begun his creative career on the road with the critically fêted (for which read commercially suicidal) Long Fin Killie, Sutherland's literary debut is based on the misadventures of a fictional combo of the contemporary jazz persuasion.
Thinking Fast Show, aren't you? Don't. Sutherland's story is anything but nice. For Jelly Roll explores race, malevolence and low self-esteem, in the writer's own words: 'searching for existential co-ordinates'. The theme that runs through his career - just three books to date - is that of opposition to the credibility of any definitive notions of race, sexuality, nationality and culture. Pick a confine, a conceit, a construct, and guaranteed Sutherland will seek it out and administer a kick to the yarbles. There's some love in here too, let's be clear, but it tends to be messy, demutualised, unredemptive. Humour and insights, though, there are plenty and Sutherland's musings on music, machismo and the artistic low-life is knowledgeable and never patronising. Vituperative at times, sure, but never patronising.
Queuing up for a beating: Glasgow, bully boys, Pictishness - 'a love of potatoes: staple of the fairyfolk diet' - bigots, druggies, anti-druggies, Anglophobes, Saturday night posers, art school kids, her out of the Cardigans (huh?), and being in a band. Spinal McTap. Without the midgets. Well, in a nation stunted in growth, why bother? Sample line: 'more alcoholism and cholera teetering pissed in all directions; stunningly beetroot faces glistening, fat red rind and tooth decay, eczema, perms, champagne slacks and white stilettos, gorged leprosy all of it … God's zoo … Another Celtic bloodbath.'
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