Cover to Cover

By Brian Toal

Meantime by Frankie Boyle

Felix McAveety is a Valium addict, a heavy drinker, and a depressive Glaswegian whose best friend has just been found murdered in Kelvingrove Park. What does he do in response? Binge on drink and drugs even more? Yes. But he’s also determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. So begins a detective story set in the mean streets of Glasgow where McAveety battles with drug lords, dodgy police and far left independence activists. There’s also a healthy dose of Artificial Intelligence, cults, secret agents and vegans. How can you spot the vegans? They’ll be sure to let you know soon enough. 

Frankie Boyle’s debut novel is just out in paperback and has received very positive reviews. It was a Sunday Timesbestseller and was shortlisted for the Bloody Scotland Scottish Crime Debut of the Year last year. I’m a fan of his stand-up and television shows because I love the way he doesn’t hold back and says what needs to be said – what we’re probably all thinking but haven’t got the courage to say overtly – and he uses the drug-addled expedition through the streets of Glasgow in search of justice for his friend to allow McAveety to pontificate on a range of Scottish social issues and satirise the political scene in Scotland following the independence referendum. Some of the sentences and one-liners are brutal and majestic in equal measure. The dialogue is brilliant and the banter hilarious. I liked the character of Donny, his nihilistic neighbour. I laughed out loud so often I had to apologise a couple of times, wiping the tears away before reading a bit more. I enjoyed Frank’s visit to a restaurant which seemed very like Mono, with a dude running the adjoining record shop who was in a band called The Aubergines. Hilarious.  

“I’d decided to take some acid as a kind of vision quest, to think more deeply into the questions that remained unanswered in the investigation. There were things that we really needed to know, and I had fewer ideas than an art school degree show.” This is typical of the acerbic McAveety, and Boyle uses the central character as a vehicle for his own vitriol. No punches are pulled, as you’d expect, and no-one is safe from his tongue-lashing, just as the guests on ‘New World Order’ quickly find out. “…middle-class people use that expression ‘imposter syndrome’ a lot, and it means the way they feel out of their depth when they get opportunities they don’t deserve.” Ouch. The book has been described as a Glaswegian Big Lebowski, and that’s a pretty apt description. It’s a detective novel, but the humour really ties the novel together. 

Handle With Care & Other Stories by Ann MacLaren

This collection of short stories – some very short indeed – cover a range of topics from relationships, loneliness, loss and love. In ‘Handle With Care’, the titular story, Rose wants a baby. Her son has left the nest, got married and become a father. The other grandmother seems to be the babysitter of choice, and Rose feels shunned. She purchases a realistic doll online which she orders to the specifications of her granddaughter, then proceeds to decorate a nursery at home and parades the baby around in a pram. Desperately sad but also very funny. Sammy is coping with a case of indigestion following a dodgy Mexican meal and a couple of beers. The problem is, he has to sit through a performance of classical music, some of which is very quiet. The hilarious climax of the story matches the climax of the music, with loud noises all round. Pen is good with a needle and thread and dotes on Ursula, off on her travels for most of the story. In a clever modern twist on the story of Penelope and Ulysses, MacLaren explores jealousy and longing through this tightly woven Greek tragedy. 

All of the stories in the collection are well written and most of them highly entertaining. Some of them are funny, some are sad, and some are just odd. There’s something for everyone here – a selection box you’d do well to buy for a loved one this festive season. 

Brodie by Gillian Shirreffs 

This is a story which spans thirty years in the life of ‘Brodie’, an old, battered copy of ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’, gifted to Violet by her aunt and inscribed with a touching message. However, the book is filched by her brother and given to his girlfriend, Heather. Heather loses the book to Iris, who passes it to Laurel. Rose and Daisy are the last owners of the book, or are they? Do any of these flowers really own the book? Does the book possess them temporarily? The stories of these six women are beautifully intertwined and what began as a simple birthday present becomes much more poignant. Some of the women read the book, some don’t. Sometimes the book is cherished, sometimes ignored for years. Sometimes the book has a good view of the action and at other times, Brodie can only guess what’s going on as it’s stuck in a dark drawer or up in the loft.  

I’m a big fan of Natsume Soseki’s ‘I am a cat’, trilogy, in which the feline narrator observes the frailties and idiosyncrasies of its human cohabitants. In a similar way, Shirreffs uses the book as more than just a symbol. It’s in a relationship with these women. Indeed, her PhD thesis explored this very relationship, and here she has manifested exactly that in a very successful, enjoyable way. The denouement is fitting and heartwarming. If books are more than books to you, you’ll love this.  

Books available at Waterstones Byres Road

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