This is Mark McNay’s first novel and clearly draws on first hand knowledge of the day to day grind of a certain working class life where a full belly, a warm fire and a good woman is perfection. It fits within a British tradition of “kitchen sink realism” kicked of by John Osbourne’s “Look back in Anger” in the 50’s that looks at the dreams and anger of the working class man and woman. Think of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday night and Sunday morning or the film work to the current day of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, both of whom continue to create powerful films unafraid of tackling head on current social problems.
The story follows a day in the life of Sean working in a chicken packing factory**, who discovers that his Brother Archie has come out of jail early ( in for violence and drugs related crime). This sets up a chain of events with tragic consequences as Sean has spent most of a money clip he was banking for his brother. He desperately struggles during the course of the day to borrow the money from family and from the firm. The novel also by flashbacks reveals Sean’s and Archie’s childhood and life up to the events of the day. Sean is no angel; he gambles, takes a more or less willing part as a pick up in his brother’s drug’s network and will use his fists. But unlike his brother does with his family needs in mind- his own and that of his uncle and aunt who gave him a home when his father left and mother died. And it’s for his family that he has to fight for as the day develops.
The story unfolds through a lot of dialogue and switches between first and third person perspectives rather then description although we get’s Sean’s flights of imagination for colour. The dialogue is written in Glaswegian but it doesn’t jar and often it’s in the silences between characters that speak more. The speech patterns (expect sentences where F**k can be a noun, verb, adjective and have several meanings from love to hate! and the mundane events of the day convey tenderness, violence and humour in scene after scene with warm believable characters.
It’s remarkable that the author started a creative writing course in his late forties in 1999 which lead to this award winning (Arts Foundation New Fiction 2007) novel. Hope for all us yet! It is by no means perfect, as the ending is a little flat and the characterisation of Archie teeters on the edge of caricature but it’s an easy page turner and I can’t wait for the Ken Loach channel four adaptation that surely must be in pre production talks as you read this!
** and you may want to rethink eating cheap value chicken after reading the book!