Sadly, No Mean City [London: Corgi, 1956] is a classic of its era. The authors’ frighteningly authentic description of life and death in the Glasgow slums of the inter-war years makes solemn reading as we follow the occasional rises and more frequent falls of the blighted citizens of Glasgow, no mean city but a hard place in which to pull oneself up out of the mire.
What’s not to enjoy with Andrew Marr’s second novel, Children of the Master [London: Fourth Estate, 2015] The laddie’s book’s a richt stotter! Jings, whaur tae stairt? Granted Scots will have a slight edge of extra enjoyment reading some parts of it, but every Sassenach should read it too. There are two central characters and one, Davie Petrie lives in Smeddum, a suburb of the Ayrshire town of Glaikit, but much of the action takes place in and around Westminster as two potential successors to a future Labour Prime Minister, rise swiftly to the front bench but only one can have the top job.
The tide has been too long coming in with The Malice of Waves by Mark Douglas-Home [London: Penguin, Michael Joseph, 2016] but he has taken this story at the flood. It’s a cracking yarn with the perfect combination of remote locality, small and suspicious community, jealousy, fear, love and loathing, and a great cast of characters, none of whom is easy to like, for one reason or another.
Twenty-five years on, Jonathan Coe has written a fascinating sequel to his satire of the nineteen-eighties. Number 11 [London: Viking, 2015] in which he now sends up the early years of this century. Coe is a talented novelist with a gift for pointing up the absurdity and selfishness of a certain type of person; in simple terms the haves, at the expense of the have nots. He is also a master of his craft as a novelist.
There’s hope for us all in Esperanza Street, a newly-published debut novel full of hope for the future by Niyati Keni which she sets in a port town in the Philippines at the beginning of the Eighties. It tells the story of Joseph from the age of eight to fifteen. His siblings have already left home when his mother dies. Feeling unable to properly care for his son and hold down his work as a stevedore, his father places him as a houseboy with ‘Aunt’ Mary Morelos, another lady down on her luck who runs a boarding house.