Alan's Reviews > Kieron Smith, Boy

Kieron Smith, Boy by James Kelman
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's review
Feb 01, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: novels, read-in-2010
Recommended to Alan by: Abailart
Read from March 10 to April 07, 2010

This book is worth five stars, but the way I read it made it, for me, more a four star one. That's because i read much of it in twenty minute commutes, and the odd kid-battered hour at home. It is the kind of book you need to give space and time to, to give in to, it follows a boy's late childhood and early adolescence in Glasgow in the fifties/sixties (I think, judging by the fashions, there's little else to go by). The writing follows Keiron's thought processes which can seem a little tedious with its repititions and doubling backs, and an incredibly narrow perspective on which to hang 420 pages. Some have called this Kelman's most accesible book to date and I can see why because everyone can relate to the child's p.o.v. and the indignities and triumphs he suffers/enjoys. However I think at first I felt I missed the adult's wider frame of reference in books like 'How Late it Was, How Late'. That was until Good Friday. The kids were out, it was pissing down so I couldn't mow the lawn, and I avoided other tasks by ignoring them and I spent three and a half hours with this book and it was bliss, I finally got inside it, and was Keiron seeing everything through his eyes. That was me, in reading bliss, on the sofa. Kelman is superb, his rigour and integrity paying off in spades. I felt the lad's stomach ache when he fears his 'n*de book' has been discovered, the elation of climbing to the tops of trees, higher than anyone else has ever climbed and feeling the tree sway with his weight, the fitting into shifting heirarchies of mates and bullies at school. The language is perfect - strange reading a Kelman where swear words are asterisked out: f**k, c**t, but even words like b*m, and what is h**e? (Oh did ye get yer h**e?). The lad is restricted by his mother who wants to be posh, and his older brother who is studying for exams at the posh school, the brothers share a room and he's not allowed to go in his brother's half. All the tiny injustices are beautifully played out inside Keiron's head. Although I didn't have the Catholic/Protestant problem much of it was similar to my childhood (the climbing/ passed to the front in big football games/ school lore/ friendships and bullying/ nude books/ first jobs and vicious dogs/ sex, the first stirring of - w*nking. I was more used to girls, however, having sisters who brought friends home. It was painfully, exquisitely accurate. Not a word wrong. Keiron gradually does let swear words in (only right towards the end) and this shows him becoming independent (a little). Kelman is a great writer, and one day I will re-read this and give it five stars.

Here's a passage from after his granda's death where you can see what I mean. I was just going to give the first para below, as it's a beautiful and succinct piece of writing, but that wouldn't be accurate, this book is definitely not about succinctness (?), but about how the ragged world is explained and defined by a growing boy's mind.

I thought about my granda, how God took him and not old people ye saw even if it was grannie Petrie Smith and ones that were sick. Ye saw an old person and if they were at the train station or walking with a walking stick and they were very old, they were walking and my granda was not, he was just dead or what, passed onto the other side. Auntie may said that. Oh dad has passed onto the other side.

Oh it is just Fate, God wills it. Matt said it was not our fault, God willed it for granda. It was not fair but Fate gave him it. Fate deals a blow to ye. If God wills it. It will be done as it is in Heaven. So then it happens. The same with Kings and Queens in history, they had their Fate, and the Princes and Princesses if they were rightful Heirs to the throne, and locked up in dungeons or turrets and then dying there, maybe if they went mad or starved to death, the poor little Prince and Princess, it was their Fate, even if they were on the rack, and getting put to death in the Tower of London, it was God willed it, so if it was Mary Queen of Scots and the English took her. The Queen of England wanted to to get her and put her out the way because of her throne and if God willed it she was a Protestant and Mary Queen of Scots was not, she was a RC. And there was nothing ye could do, even if the people loved her it was just how the Queen's army was all Redcoats, she had the best ones and they would beat anybody in the world, the whole world, it was the English Army and the Navy, they had the best ones and if countries were wanting to fight them if it was Spain and trying to take our lands, if it was England and all our treasures, the Spanish were sending all their Navy to fight us and that was England and ye saw the Spaniards and they were all high-faluting with their wee lace handkerchiefs, Oooohh, ooooohhh, that was how they spoke, anybody could beat them, and the men kept wee hankies up their sleeves for their noses and if they were fencing they had the sword in one hand and then the hankie in the other just if they were nancyboy poofs that was what it was like, if they thought they could just walk in and take over and plunder, we would show them. England would not bow to them and never surrender, if anybody thought they would, never until the last drop of blood if it was just their Queen or the young Prince they would show them, just a wee country but an island nation, that was England, so ye got Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake then it was Churchill and they were the best Navy. England had the best Navy the world had ever seen.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by David (new)

David Katzman I loved How Late it Was, How Late. Glad to see he's put out another one! Nice review.

Alan How Late was a masterpiece. I think this may be too.. or close.

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