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Dirt Road

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  378 ratings  ·  69 reviews
After his mother’s recent death, sixteen-year old Murdo and his father travel from their home in rural Scotland to Alabama to be with his American aunt and émigré uncle for a few weeks. Stopping at a small town on their way from the airport, Murdo happens upon a family playing zydeco music and joins them, leaving with a gift of two CDs of southern American songs. “Ye meet ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published July 11th 2017 by Catapult (first published July 14th 2016)
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Average rating 3.70  · 
Rating details
 ·  378 ratings  ·  69 reviews

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Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: xx2018-completed
This novel is brilliantly conceived and written. I found the story both absorbing and draining, and I enjoyed both experiences. That sounds odd, so I will explain:

Murdo (about to turn seventeen) and his Dad, Tom Macarthur, leave Scotland to visit relatives in Alabama, U.S.A. for a two week holiday. They are both stuck in their bereavement processes and maybe the hope for both is that this holiday will help them get back in touch with themselves – and maybe even each other.

They change buses in a
Angela M
3.5 stars
A Father and son share the loss of wife and mother, daughter and sister yet seemingly bear their grief alone . There's a strain in the relationship of 17 year old Murdo and his father Tom and they don't talk very much . They set out on a trip from Scotland to visit relatives in Alabama . They miss a bus and end up in Mississippi, where Murdo meets a beautiful young girl in a convenience store and connects with her musician grandmother Queen Monzee -ay, and we discover his passion for m
May 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have loved the work of the under appreciated James Kelman, and I felt no different towards The Dirt Road. Those familiar with his work will feel at home with his use of the vernacular, the disregard for grammatical conventions and the stream of consciousness approach that makes us vividly realise Murdo. Its appeal revolves around the engaging Murdo and the universal themes of love, loss, grief, and finding your place in the world. Murdo's soul driven passion for music lends him the capacity to ...more
Jul 18, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners

1/10 Reeling from a family bereavement, young musician Murdo and his father prepare to leave Scotland for a road trip to the Southern States of America.

2/10 Murdo's American road trip gets off to the worst possible start as he and his dad find themselves stranded in Allentown, Mississippi...

3/10 Stranded overnight in Allentown, Mississippi, Murdo stumbles across a rehearsal by a group of Zydeco musicians. Read by Finn den Hertog

4/10 After more uncomfo
Feb 07, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The prose is a stream of consciousness; uncensored thoughts which splurge from the protagonist's mind, taking the form of a monologue written by a young, aspiring musician who visits America with his father after the death of his mother.

For me the text was tedious ...and despite all efforts to finish, I only managed to reach the half way mark. I hate giving up on any book but for me I was wasting precious time when the next book, Paul Auster's latest tome is crying out to be read.
Jul 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book so much, it is the slowest I've ever read a book because I didn't want it to end. It's about travel, love, loss, music and a son's relationship with his Dad.
Eric Anderson
Jul 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dirt Road is the first book I’ve read by Scottish writer James Kelman. It may not be representative of his usual work as I believe he has a reputation for writing novels that invoke Glaswegian patterns of speech which make it difficult for people unfamiliar with this dialect to understand. His Booker Prize winning novel “How Late It Was, How Late” was surrounded by controversy for its frequent use of bad language, but Kelman responded to these objections saying he was honouring and representing ...more
Jul 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
James Kelman is really on top form here. A recently bereaved father and son travel to America to have a break with émigré relatives there. Viewed from the perspective of the son they both deal with the situation in their own way. All the characters, their thoughts and dialogue ring so true that I was laughing and sobbing my way through the book with them. With tangential comment on racism, religion, life and death there is so much to think about in this book. The idea the son has, that he can be ...more
Aug 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful book. It's been a few years since I'd read any Kelman, and at first I had my doubts - the voice seemed somewhat repetitive and I worried that he was going to stray into full-on working-class polemic. But a little of the way in Murdo stumbles across musicians near a convenience store and the whole novel roars to life. It is overlong in places (much like Kelman's other Scot-in-America novel "You have to be careful in the land of the free" a tougher edit would have made the novel more s ...more
Bernard O'Leary
The first thing to happen to Murdo, the star of James Kelman's intimate first-person narrative, is that he realises that he's gone on holiday without his phone. As he and his dad catch the ferry to take them from their Scottish island home, Murdo checks his pockets and discovers that he's left his mobile back at the kitchen.

This may be Kelman dealing with the contemporary dramatic problem of mobile communication (how can you have mystery when characters are constantly calling and texting each o
Road trip to the basement...

A young boy and his father, grieving for the recent loss of the boy's mother and the longer ago loss of his sister, go on a trip to visit relatives in America. While there, Murdo meets up with a family of musicians, who invite him to play his accordion (annoyingly spelled accordeon throughout in my advance reading copy, whether intentionally or accidentally I know not) at a gig in a couple of weeks time. Murdo assumes his father won't want him to go. In fact, his fath
Gerard Pourlavie
An uncompromising read, written ostensibly in the third person. The book reads like a stream of consciousness. Whilst unlikely to be autobiographical, one is conscious that it may be the author's voice which is channelled through Murdo, a naive and diffident adolescent.

It paints a vision of a small, introspective world on the vast stage of the American South, mirroring Murdo's own claustrophobic Scottish existence.

The Dirt Road of the title felt like a simile for a road movie. Father and son ge
Oct 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I burst into tears as I read the last few sentences of this book.
That's Kelman for you.
I don't know of any other author who can write with such emotional force and intensity about ordinary people in (mostly) ordinary situations.
This book felt different to other Kelman works because of the setting (set almost entirely in the US) but the central themes of love, loss, family, duty, the powerlessness of children and good old gut-wrenching sadness are all there and pack just as strong a punch as they
Nancy Millichap
Dec 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
My book club selected this for December. In the discussion last night, it was clear that we were all glad to have read it and that - except for the member who had recommended it - we might not have come to it on our own. For me, "getting into" the work was a bit of a challenge, like the dawning understanding that can happen during the first scene or two of the performance of a Shakespearean play if you haven't been to one in a year or two: a need to begin grasping the meaning behind the unfamili ...more
Lauren LaTulip
Jul 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dirt Road by James Kelman

A clear book about grief, music, and a passage through the American South by a Scots boy, Murdo, and his father. Written as Murdo plays music, entirely caught up in the minute. Fast passages, slow passages, space given to each moment, all linked by breath. A masterpiece of writing, nothing jarred me from the narrative flow and I read this book in several days. Mr. Kelman, who is new to me, is in full control and I relaxed.

Writing as Murdo Mr. Kelman has shifted one of t
Andy Oram
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
The taciturn, sensitive teenage protagonist of this book, Murdo, negotiates his role through the world. More appealing than Holden Caulfield, he appreciates and comes to understand his nurturing but conventional family from Scotland, now in the south Midwest. One thing I love about this novel is that, unlike so much fiction today, it contains no horrid, demented relatives or dysfunctional families, just a lot of kind and optimistic people with limitations. In particular, Murdo's Dad remonstrates ...more
Oct 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“It’s this quality of deeply imagined human life, with all its variance and inconsistencies, that so many of Kelman’s imitators lack. There is never anything glib about the outcome of his fiction. His stories are without the accessorising of class markers that you see in so many books of this type – where lack of money means drink, say, or domestic violence. Those easy trades of reality for caricature have damaged a great number of other novels that may have had Kelman’s ambition, but not his li ...more
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my absolute fave books for this year. How Murdo's absorption in his music and accordion playing connected him to a life he didn't know about and to those things that kept him going after the death of, first his sister and then his mother. His father's disconnection from him because of his overwhelming grief had Murdo second guessing what was expected of him. His stepping out of this and going on an incredible adventure following his heart and love of music makes this story zing. Highly be ...more
May 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Hideously anxious read about music, bereavement and being a sixteen year old boy.
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The second Kelman book to make me greet.
May 05, 2019 rated it liked it
It is a struggle for me to rate this book. On the one hand, I think the writing is a wonderful accomplishment: it employs stream of consciousness to cover a two-week visit to Alabama by a 16-year-old Scottish boy with his father, both dealing with grief over the death of their mother and wife. The boy, Murdo, is frustrated by the limitations placed on him while staying with his great uncle and aunt, and longs to get out and explore, and above all, to join in and play music with people he met in ...more
From BBC Radio 4 - Book at Bedtime:
Booker prize-winner James Kelman's new novel is a potent exploration of love, grief and the power of music.

1/10: Reeling from a family bereavement, young musician Murdo and his father prepare to leave Scotland for a road trip to the Southern States of America.

2/10: Murdo's American road trip gets off to the worst possible start as he and his dad find themselves stranded in Allentown, Mississippi.

3/10: Stranded overnight in Allentown, Mississippi, Murdo stumbles
Dec 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5/4? There is much to like and admire (admittedly I'm already a fan), but the book didn't move me as much as some of his earlier work. As an American living in Scotland, Kelman's tale of a recently bereaved Scottish father and son's trip to visit relatives in the Southland was always likely to appeal to me. In previous work I've admired his interest in life as lived in parts of America that generally aren't portrayed in fiction (or nonfiction for that matter), as well as his skill in portrayin ...more
Katie B
After the death of his mother, 16 year old Murdo and his father leave Scotland to go visit relatives in Alabama. Along the way, Murdo meets a family of musicians who invite him to go play a show with them before he goes back to Scotland. As Murdo spends time with his relatives, he realizes that he and his father have different ways of coping with the death of a loved one.

Sometimes a book just does not click with you and you aren't even sure why. This is one of those times. I liked the concept o
Liz Moffat
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tom and his son Murdo are traveling to America to stay for a couple of weeks with relatives. They miss their connection and end up in Mississippi overnight where Murdo meets Sarah and her grandmother a musician Queen Monzee-ay. Murdo plays accordion with them and they ask him to come to a concert in Lafayette in two weeks time. Murdo and Tom are still coming to terms with the death of Murdo's mother and earlier death of his sister from a hereditary condition affecting the female line of the fami ...more
Aug 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book and was keen to get to the end in the hope that some comfort was found for both grieving father and son. I think it was but as in life, in this book, the important things that need to be said are too often not said and perhaps especially between fathers and sons. I particularly liked Murdo's awkward attempts at conveying his feelings and what he really meant and wanted, which seemed very realistic.
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2018
This another of those books - told from a single point of view - that requires a change of mindset, of mental pace, to read but it was so very worthwhile for the thought-provoking depths of it. Murdo's struggling to cope with grief and the adolescent bursting for independence, in America rather than Scotland (so all the more dislocating) - plus the insight into experiencing the joys of playing music were impressively told and made for a very satisfying read.
May 30, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Murdo, a Scottish teenager, jets off to America with his dad to visit relatives in Alabama. This is a novel about loss and grief and how a teenage boy copes by immersing himself in music. I won this in a giveaway in exchange for an honest review and I found it a good introduction to an author I've not read before.
Aug 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At 70 years old, I think James is going a bit soft. No bad words and a happy ending. BBC Radio 4 and a filum coming. I suspect he’s found religion, Infinity plus 1, Murdo rocking out at the ‘JC ‘club in Lafayette. Halleluiah.
Anna Tucker
May 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
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Kelman says:

My own background is as normal or abnormal as anyone else's. Born and bred in Govan and Drumchapel, inner city tenement to the housing scheme homeland on the outer reaches of the city. Four brothers, my mother a full time parent, my father in the picture framemaking and gilding trade, trying to operate a one man business and I left school at 15 etc. etc. (...) For one reason or anothe

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