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In His Sunday Suit

Stuart Kelly: Liam McIlvanney’s Novel

3 December 2009
All the Colours of the Town 
by Liam McIlvanney.
Faber, 329 pp., £12.99, August 2009, 978 0 571 23983 2
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... Sectarianism seldom plays any part in Scottish writing. One of the few exceptions – and the most pertinent to LiamMcIlvanney’s novel – comes in Ian Rankin’s Mortal Causes (1994), the sixth in his bestselling Rebus series, whose plot hinges on the victim’s association with extreme Protestant groups. Mortal Causes ...

That Time

Liam McIlvanney: Magda Szabó

15 December 2005
The Door 
by Magda Szabó, translated by Len Rix.
Harvill Secker, 262 pp., £15.99, October 2005, 1 84343 193 9
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... Straightforwardly enough, The Door begins with a door. In fact, it begins with ‘The Door’, a three-page prologue – a door into the novel – in which a woman recounts a bad dream. She is standing behind the front door of her apartment building and an ambulance crew is waiting in the street. The paramedics are eager to get in – someone in the building is desperately ill – but the door won’t ...

The Coldest Place on Earth

Liam McIlvanney: Colm Tóibín’s ‘Brooklyn’

25 June 2009
by Colm Tóibín.
Viking, 252 pp., £17.99, April 2009, 978 0 670 91812 6
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... Eilis Lacey is a young Enniscorthy woman who has never dreamed of leaving Ireland. Friary Street and Castle Street, the square and the cathedral: the grey co-ordinates of her small County Wexford town will doubtless always be with her. But this is 1950s Ireland, in which there is ‘no work for anyone . . . no matter what their qualifications’. Eilis’s father is dead. Her three older brothers ...

Navigational Aids

Liam McIlvanney: Jonathan Raban and the ‘novel-sized city’

6 November 2003
by Jonathan Raban.
Picador, 311 pp., £15.99, August 2003, 0 330 41320 1
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... When the hero of Jonathan Raban’s new novel is scolded for living in a world of his ‘own construction’, the implied rebuke falls flat: this, for Raban, is the whole point of America. Raban’s travel books present America as a ‘glittering fiction’, a country shaped by the ardent imaginings of its immigrant millions and by the universal reach of its popular fables – ‘the mythology of the ...


Liam McIlvanney: The House of Blackwood

5 June 2003
The House of Blackwood: Author-Publisher Relations in the Victorian Era 
by David Finkelstein.
Pennsylvania State, 199 pp., £44.95, April 2002, 0 271 02179 9
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... At the tail-end of 1892 Robert Louis Stevenson was working on a novel. The book was going well but one thing was bothering him. Serial publication, he felt, might be difficult to secure, since ‘The Justice Clerk’ – it would eventually be published as Weir of Hermiston – was both ‘queer’ and ‘pretty Scotch’. Still, he reflected, there was one magazine worth trying: ‘It has occurred ...

In the Company of Confreres

Terry Eagleton: ‘Modern British Fiction’

12 December 2002
On Modern British Fiction 
edited by Zachary Leader.
Oxford, 328 pp., £14.99, October 2002, 0 19 924932 6
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... gardener did. Perhaps Murdoch evolved against the grain of her age, starting off as a woman writer and ending up as a lady novelist. The latter title might also be reserved for Muriel Spark, who, as LiamMcIlvanney points out in an essay here on Scottish writing, displays ‘a contempt for the wretched, a relished indifference to suffering’. Far from overlooking the poor, she ‘turns from their ...

About Myself

Liam McIlvanney: James Hogg

18 November 2004
The Electric Shepherd: A Likeness of James Hogg 
by Karl Miller.
Faber, 401 pp., £25, August 2003, 0 571 21816 4
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Altrive Tales 
by James Hogg, edited by Gillian Hughes.
Edinburgh, 293 pp., £40, July 2003, 0 7486 1893 7
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... On a winter’s evening in 1803, James Hogg turned up for dinner at the home of Walter Scott. The man his host liked to call ‘the honest grunter’ was shown into the drawing-room, where a pregnant Mrs Scott was resting on a sofa. Unsure of the protocol in these toney surroundings, and deciding to take his cue from the hostess, Hogg flopped onto an adjoining sofa, smirching the chintz with his dung-spattered ...

Give or take a dead Scotsman

Liam McIlvanney: James Kelman’s witterings

22 July 2004
You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Free 
by James Kelman.
Hamish Hamilton, 437 pp., £12.99, June 2004, 0 241 14233 4
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... Ye just battered on, that was what ye did man ye battered on, what else can ye do?’ Grim tenacity, the will to struggle on through difficult terrain, has long been a characteristic of James Kelman’s protagonists. More recently, it’s been a virtue demanded of his readers. Kelman’s last novel, Translated Accounts (2001), was a fractured political allegory in blurry translatorese from an uncertain ...


Karl Miller: On the 1990 World Cup

26 July 1990
... score, and they are less forthcoming when they don’t. Here, in the quality papers I saw, most of the correspondents were unforthcoming both before and after the result. It was a relief to read Hugh McIlvanney in the Observer on the Sunday. Just over a year ago a previous diary of mine had this to say about the young English player Paul Gascoigne, allegedly wayward but already deeply acceptable to the ...

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