Dialects

Francis Spufford

  • Greyhound for Breakfast by James Kelman
    Secker, 230 pp, £10.95, March 1987, ISBN 0 436 23283 9
  • Pauper, Brawler and Slanderer by Amos Tutuola
    Faber, 156 pp, £9.95, March 1987, ISBN 0 571 14714 3

There is a thing – call it the bastard high style – which has preoccupied some writers ever since Villon found a fruitful union in the marriage of gutter argot and the language of the Schools. In English, in this century, it has mostly been used by Irish writers: by Joyce, with Vico and scatology, by Beckett, with velleity and bananas, and by Flann O’Brien, one paragraph of whose At-Swim-Two-Birds includes both an argumentum on Rousseau and the sudden eructation of ‘buff-coloured puke’. Now there is a new practitioner, working with a different vernacular and a different elevated diction. The first of the 47 fictions in James Kelman’s Greyhound for Breakfast finds old Francis on a park bench in Glasgow, menaced by vaguely circling winos trying to cadge a cigarette.

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