So I'd been asking W6 frequent commenter Zoe what's good out of Scotland, and a few weeks later what should show up in my mailbox but a puffy airmail envelope marked Scotland Cultural Delivery. Inside were a couple of books and a CD compilation of Scottish bands singing about books. The CD I'll get to another time, but I just read one of the books--A. L. Kennedy's first collection, Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains.
I had heard of Kennedy but hadn't read her. I'm glad I did--she's good. Her narrative style is deceptive--these stories seem to ramble aimlessly, before they suddenly reveal themselves to have been headed straight for their target all along. A few of them ("Translations" springs to mind) leave out so much information that you wonder for a long time what the hell you're even reading--but they always add up to something, however convinced you are that they won't.
One thing that irks me, though--and I'm speaking here only of this collection, which remember is her first--is how unrelievedly victim-oriented these narratives are. The first four stories, for instance, feature, respectively, a disease victim, a rape victim, an infidelity victim, and another rape victim. I certainly regard this kind of material as legitimate fodder for fiction--who wouldn't?--but I found myself longing, by the end of the book, for the characters to do something about their plight. I'm not talking about happy endings, or pluck, or "redemption," Lord help us, but agency. It's a truism that abuse begets misery, and while I don't expect or desire literary characters to find clever and satisfying ways around their unhappiness, I certainly would like to see them give it a shot, and fail interestingly. Ultimately I find these stories a little static--in each one, the tone is glum, and you sit back and wait to see what the dark secret is, and then it's revealed, and then you're glum too.
Like I said, though--it's good anyway. Kennedy isn't going in for the lurid, smeary lyricism that afflicts a lot of writers of "serious" material; her stuff sounds like something worth reading.
Who's read her books since? There are a bunch. Personally, I would be mortified to be judged on some random blog by a dude who's only read my first book, so weigh in on the comments if you're a fan (or not).
(And Zoe--thanks again for the package!)