small ever-diminishing circle some call literary fiction, the role of narrator-monologist tends to be occupied by an articulate sort. It’s a technique that some may find quaint. Nevertheless, when it’s tried, the result can include unique psychological dimensions — introspection, delusion, or both, for example. I’m won over when it achieves a level of poetic diction, which in most fiction is a momentary affair.
In Mo said she was quirky, James Kelman adopts this technique by deferring dialog until page 101. In those first 100 pages, he offers up a narrator-monologist who is somehow at once both ordinary (even oppressed) and, at times, penetratingly insightful. Which is to say that monologist Helen speaks colloquially, but as one whose fretful, tormented ruminations expose fault lines along gender, fortune, fate and family. What Helen narrates is often dark.
Sad thoughts, sadness about the thoughts; the thoughts were not said in themselves, the sadness was from thinking about them, their lives, their lives were just poor, poor lives, the casino too and the people she saw and encountered day in day out, night after night after night, frittering and superficial and some horrible, just horrible, horrible people and all their horrible attitudes, going out into the night, avoiding the shadows, the back alleys and side streets, they didnt want to know about them (p. 41).
There’s a disturbing minor family mystery that begins our time inside Helen’s mind, and the plot’s starkness is a reminder of just how sharp ordinary — no, rudely domestic — pain can be. This narrator’s story is a solitary one, and the reader feels somehow lonesome, too. Like a friend one cherishes but one you must muster the courage to phone, it’s the time with Helen’s blurted-out insights you’ll find memorable. Uncomfortably so.
-Original Amazon review
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