Oh, what a lovely book. I picked this new release up while I was in in Scotland last month – it’s written by a Scottish musician and was released through a local press. Darkly comic, coarse, and witty, the story is told by John, a young Scot who feels listless after attending art school in London; he returns to the Scottish countryside just outside St Andrews to stay with his old pal Stevie who works on a local farm. It’s primarily a story about the lads’ friendship – getting over the initial awkwardness, learning to be pals again after years apart- but also about belonging somewhere, or trying to belong somewhere, and trying not to disappoint people, or places.
The writing is a joy to read. As well as the black humour, the style is eclectic – italicised sections, dialogue without any directional markers (sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s speaking), a lot of first person free indirect discourse, a lot of Scottish slang. (All of this is actually not that unconventional for Scottish writers – think Irvine Welsh and Janice Galloway, for starters). There’s a fair bit of the absurd and grotesque going on (including a hilarious, semi slapstick scene where John attempts to feed tripe to a bunch of dogs at a boarding kennel) which all leads to a surprisingly dark and serious climax. John as a character narrator is highly lovable, frustrating, and convincing – his voice was so well crafted, so believable, a delight to read. Stevie and Mikey, the other two main characters, are also very well drawn. Interestingly, Mikey gets his own little sections of first-person monologue dispersed throughout the text as well.
It’s never explicitly mentioned in the text but there are some serious homoerotic undertones operating in the way John relates to Stevie. Stevie himself verges on the homophobic, and you get the impression that the ‘awkwardness’ the guys need to get over is from Stevie fearing John’s affections? Again, never actually mentioned, but that was my impression. And Yorkston handled it so well and sensitively, it was quite moving to see John worry so much about what Stevie would think of him, whether they could be friends again, etc, and also so touching how much Stevie clearly loved having John back in his life even though he’d never admit it.
The pacing dragged a little through the middle section, and I wasn’t sure how a few of the scenes, funny as they were, fed into the broader scope of the story. Yorkston’s style is highly descriptive with close attention paid to the details the protagonist notices in the world around him which mostly is great, but occasionally seemed a little overwrought or tangential. I think this is why the story felt a bit slow in the middle. It was still nice to read, though.
All that aside, I really enjoyed this book, it’s a novel I will re-read, and I will definitely keep an eye out for new work from Yorkston.