A Glasgow Trilogy
By George Friel
Canongate – £18.00
‘I’m their referee. They rely on me for to see justice done. I’m the lawman. I’m the judge. Cause I stand above it so I can see it. Boys are like Jews, they’re different from the people round about them. And where would the Jews have been if they hadn’t had Moses to give them the Law?’
‘Ach!’ his mother derided him. ‘Playing we’ a lot o’ weans and ye call yourself Moses!’
‘They’re not weans,’ he shouted. ‘They’re innocent children. And Christ has said unless ye become as little children ye shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’
‘Oh, it’s Christ now, is it? Cried his baffled mother. ‘You’d gar anybody grue so you would the way you talk. Moses! Christ!’
She returned to the dishes in the basin in the sink.
(The Boy Who Wanted Peace)
With a poignant procrastination from the premise of social induced turmoil, loneliness, nigh Dickensian living standards, unemployment and occasional religiosity, A Glasgow Trilogy is without any shadow of a doubt, an acute reflection of today’s (increasingly broken) Britain.
Set amid the tenements of Glasgow, the language is as loose as it is tough as it is inviting for all the right reasons – the quintessential one being: it tells the truth.
What’s more, it tells the truth without having to resort to the usual array of glamorized drug schtick appeal, sticky sex, or that of knee to the bollocks violence; uber liberal qualities of which are so often the case within the parameters of this genre of writing.
That’s not to say it’s only, purportedly reminiscent of Irvine Welsh – who readily subscribes to all of the above – although, as the opening quote does show, there is a fair bit of slightly perplexing Glaswegian patois, cunningly placed amid these three novels (The Boy Who Wanted Peace, Grace and Miss Partridge and Mr Alfred M.A.). Added no doubt, for grit infused, atmospheric sentiment.
Other than his sparkling wit and very evident compassion, what I particularly like about George Friel’s writing, is his most astute and assured way of interweaving social tragedy with comedy.
As such is most evident throughout the second novel, Grace and Miss Partridge, wherein the author takes us on a seemingly understated, albeit roller-coaster ride of literal, dour drama. The likes of which, were it not ever so (occasionally) pleasingly comedic, many might consider harks back to the likes of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning or Nell Dunn’s Up The Junction: ”[…] he was so busy talking trivia non-stop in his eagerness to keep her spirits up he never let her get a word in edgeways. If she could only have got him to listen, a confession of her love would have done her a lot more good than listening to him. For all his anxiety to help, Tommy was no use to her. She carried her absurd secret as a burden God had put on her for her salvation and found strength in silence. Yet still she longed to tell her love, love that never should be told. And to whom better than her beloved? […]. Grace had no complaints. She certainly scoffed at once most of the chips from the fish supper and made a spirited assault thereafter on the cakes and biscuits, but she had little conversation. And Shelley, who was meant to provide talk by his running commentary on the party in particular and life in general, was as silent as the backcourt after midnight. The great occasion lacked the atmosphere Miss Partridge had expected it to have; there was no intimacy, no communion, no tender preparation for her confession of love, only a wee girl eating bravely and a bird in his cage snuffling and sniffing, gasping and wheezing, watching them with a melancholy eye, bowing his head to peck at his breast, shivering and flapping to no purpose.”
That’s right, Shelley (as in the great poet) might well be a parrot, but said parrot plays host to a high-octane, highly organised confession in the making.
Or should I say breaking?
That a parrot could be deemed to be ”watching with a melancholy eye, bowing his head to peck at his breast, shivering and flapping to no purpose;” is either bordering on razor-sharp madness or genius.
Either way, it doesn’t really make too much difference, because as a writer, George Friel is as organic and original a writer as fundamental hip morality will surely allow.
Of which A Glasgow Trilogy is a compassionate testament.