A child’s vision of his rough-and-tumble world occupies the latest from Scottish author Kelman (You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Free, 2004, etc.).
For Kieron, it’s all a matter of size. There are big boys and wee boys, and Kieron is a wee boy. Later, other distinctions emerge. In his native Glasgow, there are Papes (Catholics) and Proddies (Protestants). Members of the rival religions lead separate lives, though Kieron (a Protestant) has a few Catholic friends. He tells his story pell-mell; the syntax is disjointed; dialect words add flavor to his rambling account. Kieron lives in cramped quarters with his mother and unfriendly big brother Matt (size again). Tensions mount when his grumpy father leaves the Merchant Marine to take a factory job. Kieron finds more love at his grandparents’ place. There are soccer games with his pals, but best of all is climbing: walls, trees and drainpipes (his specialty). The joy of physical exertion saves him from an otherwise dreary childhood of petty restrictions. Kelman doesn’t supply a plot and leaves characterization fuzzy, but he captures Kieron’s consciousness and character formation as he interprets the world and argues with himself. This inner dialogue is often circular and tedious, but there is one moment, after Kieron experiences the death of a loved one, when he lets rip in a fine transcendent passage that marks him as a young fatalist. He turns 12 and goes to a new school, which he hates (all that homework), slipping into truancy as he gets a small job making deliveries. He dreams of running away with his best friend Mitch, a freeloader who steals from his folks, and finds relief in swearing (formerly taboo). He’s at the threshold of sexual adventure, but he seems headed for a bleak future in the underclass.
Though it’s a vivid reminder that childhood is a foreign country, the book is way too long and self-indulgent.