August 23, 2017

An old pub near the Angel by James Kelman

An Old Pub Near the Angel was James Kelman’s first collection of short stories. Originally published in the US in 1973, it was finally published in the UK in 2007. The edition I have includes a 1973 interview Kelman gave to The Scotsman, and a long Afterword by the author himself.

The collection of stories is well written and quite enjoyable to pick up from time to time. Each is set among the working classes in Glasgow, and they are distilled down to the minimum number of words – no backstory, we go straight into the narrative. And most is simply conversations between people in bedsits and pubs.

There are 13 short stories in total:An old pub near the Angel by James Kelman

  • The Cards
  • A Roll for Joe
  • Abject Misery
  • He knew him well
  • The Last Night
  • Wednesday
  • Dinner for Two
  • An old pub near the Angel
  • The Best Man Advises
  • Circumstances
  • New Business
  • This Morning
  • Nice to be Nice

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern 26

McSweeney's Quarterly Concern 26If you’ve not come across McSweeney’s Quarterly Concerns before it’s a collection of creative writing (usually short stories) published each quarter.

Number 26 is the first one I’ve read – it comes in 3 parts. The 2 small (pocket sized) books you can see in the picture, and a 3rd section which is a guide to American foreign policy called “Who to Invade next”. I’ll be totally honest the 3rd section really doesn’t interest me that much (but a friend of mine who’s very into this stuff says it was rather good, and also rather funny). [Read more...]

Liver by Will Self

Liver by Will SelfOr give the book it’s full title – “Liver: a fictional organ with a surface anatomy of four lobes”. The book winds through 4 interconnected short stories all of which in some way relate back to Liver.

Foie Humain

The first story is a great read. It revolves around the life of the regulars of one of Soho’s most infamous member’s clubs over a 30 year period. Dark and miserable, but you can see how they are all quite happy in their world. They are very much an parallel universe all of their own – who get one over on the normals when they go to the opening night of The Extra’s latest play, but who otherwise seem to just want to be at the club – the Plantation.
But there’s a major twist at the end – which really does come from far off to right field!


The longest of the four stories, and split into separate chapters. It’s an intriguing story of ex-NHS administrator, Joyce, who has decided to take the last plane to Zurich in order to avoid the horrors of her terminal liver cancer. The story explores (in a very un-controversial way) the feelings of those who agree with assisted suicide and those who don’t. More interestingly it also delves into the politics of the Catholic Faith and the world of …. can’t say that as it will damage one of the twists for you.

For me the most enjoyable part is learning how the different people in the story cope with Joyce’s decision. And more importantly how they cope with her sheer determination and focus to do what is right for her, and only for her.

The 3rd story is a story about an advertising executive called Prometheus. Like Prometheus all the characters are named after Greek gods. The one thing I’m longing to discuss in this review, but can’t because it’ll destroy part of the story, is the part concerning liver. Put it this way – it’ll weird you out, confuse your and possibly make you feel a little ill.

Quite an intriguing story as it mixes real life things from the London ad world (name checking agencies such as Dare and Glue), yet in many ways it is an extremely out-of-this-world story. Again the story ties back to the Plantation Club in the first story. And reading this one it seems the stories are in chonological order.

Birdy Num Num

The final tale is told by a virus “we are legion” (somehow reading that I couldn’t get Red Dwarf out of my head!). And focuses on the activity in a druggy flat in London. More of a who-got-it than a who-done-it, it’s quite a different type of tale from the others and the one I found it the hardest to get into.

That’s possibly because it’s told alongside the parallel world one of the druggies lives in which is a film from the 70s starting Peter Sellers.

Kinda reminded me of Irvine Welsh’s Marabou Stork Nightmares

The Female of the Species by Joyce Carol Oats

Female of the Species is a collection of short stories about women, and all of them are either a bit of a thriller or a bit disturbing! I’ll admit I read this a few months ago, and have only just got around to reviewing it – and revisiting it now I realise how several of the stories have been occupying my thoughts every now and then since I read it. I quite like that in a book – so I’d definitely recommend reading it if you come across a copy.

So Help Me God is a seriously disturbing, yet really rather normal story. It’s about a young girl who marries the manThe Female of the Species her father disapproves of, then things go so wrong that doesn’t matter anymore (I can’t describe it much more than that without giving away the story). Much stronger opening story than that of Bang Crunch.

In The Banshee we learn why rich parents shouldn’t get divorced when they have young children – OR – why you shouldn’t leave a confused yet well-meaning and young child around a baby… This story ends at the perfect moment – leaves you dwelling on it for a long time!

Doll: A Romance of the Mississippi explores a very disturbing relationship between a girl and her step-father (not how you’re thinking) who travel around the States seemingly running from something. As with the other stores Joyce Carol Oats leaves out just enough to leave you wondering – superb writing.

The next story, Madison at Guignol, is an extreme shopper getting a sneak peak of something she really didn’t want to see. A bit like when a child begs and begs for some liquorice because it looks sweet and tasty – and then finds out it’s vile. Grusome.

The Haunting is the weakest story in the book, about a wife murdering her husband (or not) told through the memory of her daughter.

Hunger tells the story of a married woman’s holiday romance that goes to take the most extreme route to them getting together. And it’s all about the beach – some lovely landscape descriptions.

In Tell Me You Forgive Me? we travel back through a lady’s life, exploring her mental illnesses, her alcoholism, how it all came about, and what the consequences were.

Angel of Wrath is a bit hard to follow but yet a powerful journey through the history of two women.

Finally, we go into the world of a killer nurse in Angel of Mercy. Another different style of story – and a good one to end with.

Bang Crunch by Neil Smith

Bang Crunch is a bit of mixed book of short stories. The first story I really didn’t care much for – nearly gave up on the whole book. Overall – worth reading.

From there on in it is much better:

So that first short story… Isolettes. A weird journey through the emotions of a pair of best friends who try to have a baby through AI (artificial insemination).

There’s a very interesting exploration of teenage sexuality in Green Fluorescent Protein, I really want to know what happens next in this one.

B9ers is about a group trying to recover from the impact of having a benign tumour (interesting premise!). It delves into a bit of vigilante culture and explores whether human nature is any good these days or not!

The story Bang Crunch itself is a must for anyone who likes the documentaries that exploit strange medical conditions. (you just need to read it).

Scrapbook yet more adolescent meanderings… really interesting structure for a tale though -everything links back to part of a scrapbook.

In The Butterfly Box we explore the relationship of a daughter and her artist father. After his death as she looks back on them from a retrospective of his career.

Funny Weird or Funny Ha Ha? sees us visiting the mother of one of the teenagers in Green Fluorescent Protein as she continues to overcome the death of her husband Carl, and avoid falling back into alcoholism.

Extremities is a story told by the foot of an astronaut that’s landed back on earth in a suburban garden – without the astronaut. The foot telling the story of some gloves… Really rather good – my description isn’t really worthy of the story.

Jaybird is about the trials and tribulations of an upcoming actor who falls for a lady who humiliates him and dissappears. Only for the humiliation to help him find a happier life.

Overall a series of very funny and bizarre takes on modern life – each one makes you think.

Bang Crunch by Neil Smith