The Burn by James Kelman (Seeker and Warburg, £13.99) Katrine Williams THE Glaswegian James Kelman's latest collection of short stories could have done with a glossary for his English readers. You have to be up on your "gret" and your "maw" to claim complete comprehension, although the tone of the writing is so distinctive you'll get the gist. Most of us recognise the expletives.
To borrow the author's own phrase from a story called A Walk in the Park. his style is an example of Glasgow macho, as indeed is his subject matter.
These stories make depressing reading, peopled as they are by social misfits who stumble to express the mess inside their heads. They are losers, whether because they are at the bottom of the social ladder as street sweepers, or unemployed and skint, or because they are failing to match their own expectations: the salesman whose patter no longer convinces; the divorcee whose patter is interrupted as pestering by the lassie at the bar.
Men not understanding women is one of the recurring themes. In Pictures, it's impossible to empathise with the central character unless the mix of aggression, grievance against the rest of the world, and lonely hopelessness appeals to you. And yet the character attempts to bridge the gulf between himself and another being in the cinema and fantasises in a rambling way as to whether she is mentally disturbed, a prostitute or what. "He felt like shouting to her: what's up missus? Something wrong?" I wouldn't want to sit anywhere near any of Kelman's characters in a cinema.
It's easier to appreciate Kelman's perceptive skill when the grotesque is not laid on with a towel.
Don't look for anything upbeat or celebratory in the entire collection. Each tale suffers from the head in hands syndrome.
You have to have a penchant for joylessness to enjoy Kelman.