This article is from 2009.
There can be few Scottish writers as lauded as James Kelman, and rightly so. The Glasgow-born author has spent a career carving out a place as the authentic voice of his generation, his use of stream-of-consciousness prose and vernacular Scots redefining and reclaiming language from what he sees as oppressively colonial English ideas of what constitutes legitimate literary work. And he’s riding high at the moment. His most recent novel, Kieron Smith, Boy, has received incredible praise, as well as winning the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year. This year also saw Kelman appear on the shortlist for the hugely prestigious Man Booker International Prize. That Kelman was the only British writer to appear was even more impressive.
But it’s an achievement that’s truly deserved. Kieron Smith, Boy is Kelman’s most personal book, drawing on his own childhood to tell of a boy growing up in post-war Glasgow. It unflinchingly tackles themes of national identity, language, bigotry and politics but does so in a truly moving personal tale, and one that strikes right at the heart of the Scottish psyche.
Kelman has always been a controversial figure, most notably when he won the Booker Prize in 1994 for How Late it Was, How Late when one of the judges immediately declared the decision ‘a disgrace’ and his book ‘crap’. For Kelman, that merely reinforced his belief that the London literati were a clique to be fought, and that his work was important culturally, politically and artistically. And so it remains.
26 Aug, 11.30am, £9 (£7)