Kelman v’s Jakey

The link at the bottom of this post takes you to Alan Taylor’s review in The Herald of James Kelman’s recent appearance at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Having seen Kelman at previous festivals I get the impression that he likes to shake up the mainly middle-class audiences that attend such events, and that they, in turn, expect him to do so. It’s a complicated relationship. His decision to read for 25mins from his 2001 novel Translated Accounts, easily his most difficult, is a classic example of this. It’s the equivalent of going to see Lou Reed and discovering that he’s going to play the whole of Metal Machine Music. Kelman’s choice of text is particularly perverse in the year that his brilliant novel Kieron Smith, boy was lauded and awarded.
This year he also had a thinly veiled pop at Ian Rankin and JK Rowling as he bemoans the publicity, and I assume the accompanying promotional budget, afforded their work: “As I argued recently,” Kelman added, “if the Nobel Prize came from Scotland they would give it to a writer of fucking detective fiction or else some kind of child writer or something that was not even news when Enid Blyton was writing the Faraway Tree because she was writing about some upper middle class young magician or some fucking crap.”
I’m a huge Kelman fan. I find that the more I read him the better he gets, and it warms me that he is a difficult sod, and, is rightly, pissed that his work is not more widely read. But I think what sours his mood most can be summed up by this appearance in Edinburgh. He wants his work to be read by the people he writes about; the busconductors, the chancers and the disaffected. The people who he grew up with, went to school with, their children and grandchildren. But they are more likely to read Rowling and Rebus, partly, as Kelman points out, because that is what is sold to them. Kelman is much more likely to be read by the sort of people who buy tickets for the Edinburgh Book Festival. And so he finds himself back there, year after year, looking at the same or strangely similar faces. No wonder he swears.

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