James Kelman features in these pages more than any other writer. This is for a few good reasons. Not only is he ‘Scotland’s Greatest Living Writer’ TM
but he seems to divide opinion like few others and actually engages with questions of cultural importance. The rammy that he started in Edinburgh last year (see Kelman v’s Jakey
) may have had the whiff of deliberate provocation about it, but it is hard to imagine the news section of our national newspapers bothering about the opinions of many other novelists, with a couple of obvious exceptions. You can always rely on Kelman to give good quote.
This can have the effect of overshadowing his fiction, which at the moment has never been better. His last novel, Kieron Smith, boy, was his best since How Late it Was, How Late and now we have a new collection of short stories; If it is your life. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know that I am a fan of the well written short story, and I think Kelman is the best without exception.
In this latest collection Kelman deals with issues of mental health, marital disharmony (gender miscommunication is a constant subject in his writing, and is often over looked) the continuing questions of class, and a general sense that modern life is rubbish. As usual this is expressed with a command of language that appears so effortless you just know it is the result of painstaking work. There is also the most Kelmanesque title for a story imaginable in ‘Pieces of shit do not have the power to speak’, which may also have been the title of a Dead Kennedys’ album.
But don’t take my word for it. No other literary luminary than Liz Lochhead (clang!) has told me that she considers Kelman’s best work to be that in short story form. Or you could buy If it is your life and judge for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.