Two reviews of books by men (again) – it feels like I read these ages ago now, although I actually finished the Kelman on Christmas Day (as I received it on Christmas Day, 2014, this felt nice and neat). I have had an unpleasant cold/cough for a week or so, and ended up ducking out of the family Christmas celebrations, as I didn’t want to be coughing everywhere and possibly infecting people, so I had a VERY quiet day lying around with the cat, reading and colouring in, which did me the power of good (I’m almost back to normal now, out running this morning, etc.), and this began quite a lot of reading, so there will be a few reviews over the next few days!
Omid Djalili – “Hopeful”
(8 January 2015, The Works)
I bought this and the Ken Livingstone autobiog (that I am actually reading now!) to make up an online order from The Works that included Orla Kiely’s “Pattern” and get free delivery, the kind of activity in which only a book-buying obsessive indulges, I know. Anyway, I’d been intrigued by this British-Iranian comedian and felt he was a warm and interesting character, enough to pick up a cheap copy of his autobiography. Bonus: it’s a single-volume work – none of this stopping where it gets interesting with all the famous people and stuff you’ve seen and expecting you to buy another book. Hooray!
He’s self-deprecating and honest about his struggles with coming from a slightly odd, unorthodox family, especially for the very British mansion block they lived in, as well as with friends and girls. His parents operated a hostel for Iranians coming over to use British medical facilities, and he was expected to guide them around London from a very early age. There’s quite a lot about how the terribly British people around them made allowances for the fact that his parents were basically extremely kind and caring people looking after fellow countrymen with diverse and distressing needs.
It’s not a riot of funniness, but that’s OK – it’s more reflective than that, with Djalili relating aspects of his unusual childhood to his activities and behaviour later in life and reflecting on a very real propensity to stand back from the crowd while longing for it to embrace him. There are some very funny scenes, however, and it’s well-written, apart from some inexplicably weird proofing errors, which did jump out at me and mar things a little.
This book would suit … fans of this comedian, people interested in the immigrant experience / second-generation Iranians in the UK.
James Kelman – “You Have to be Careful in the Land of the Free”
(25 December 2014 – from Gill)
An amazing tour de force of a novel, engaging, funny, moving, nail-bitingly tense – and a definite data point in favour of me delaying my Books Of The Year post until the very end of the year.
It’s Jeremiah’s last night in America. He’s planning to go back to Scotland to lick his wounds, maybe repair his relationship with the family he hasn’t seen for 8 years, and consider how to maintain contact with his young daughter. Will he come back? Who knows. His immigration status is perilous, and he’s only survived in a series of bar, driving and security jobs as long as he has because he’s white and unbearded, he knows. He longs to disappear, but he’s got an ex, the beautiful jazz singer, Yasmin, as well as the toddler daughter he barely gets to see, and however chaotic his life gets, he can’t risk deportation or arrest.
All he needs is a break, but enmired as he is in a chaos of drinking and gambling and, frankly, being too clever for his own good, whenever he does get a break, he conspires against himself to mess it up. But for all of this, he’s an engaging, literate, politically and socially aware and hugely funny character: a real character you could imagine meeting. And although it’s unclear whether he’ll get back to Scotland – or even through the night; although the book moves through seedy bars, near-fights, shady practices and an underworld of illegal immigration and grinding poverty that it’s almost impossible to avoid slipping into; although it’s what I might term a ‘masculine’ novel, with muscular sentences, uncompromising topics and an awful lot of what I once memorably saw called “effing and jeffing”, like his previous novel, “How Late it Was, How Late” and, for example, Magnus Mills’ novels, I absolutely bloody loved it.
This book would suit … Anyone interested in the human condition, people who liked his other novels and Magnus Mills’ stuff; people who don’t mind reading something written entirely in dialect.
OK, two down, five to go, a few short ones tomorrow, I think …