Archive for Glasgow

strange loyalties [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 26, 2020 by xi'an

This book by William McIlvarnney is the third and last one in the Laidlaw investigation series and the most original of the three as far as I am concerned… For it is more an inner quest than a crime investigation, as the detective is seeking an explanation to the accidental death of his brother as well as the progressive deterioration of their relation, while trying to make sense of his own life and his relation to women. It is thus as far a crime novel as it is possible, although there are criminals involved. And Laidlaw cannot separate his “job” from his personal life, meaning he does investigate on his free time the death of his brother.  It is entirely written in a first-person perspective, which makes the reading harder and slower in my case. But an apt conclusion to the trilogy, rather than being pulled into finer and finer threads as other detective stories. Brilliant (like the light on Skye during the rain).

“Life was only in the living of it. How you act and what you are and what you do and how you be were the only substance. They didn’t last either. But while you were here, they made what light there was – the wick that threads the candle-grease of time. His light was out but here I felt I could almost smell the smoke still drifting from its snuffing.”

faster no more! [flybeen]

Posted in pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on March 11, 2020 by xi'an

Glasgow [The papers of Tony Veitch]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2020 by xi'an

[I read the second volume of McIlvanney’s Laidlaw Trilogy, The papers of Tony Veitch, with the same glee as the first one. And with some nostalgia at the yearly trips to Glasgow I made over the years, albeit a decade after the book was published. Some passages were too good to be missed!]“Standing so high, Laidlaw felt the bleakness of summer on his face and understood a small truth. Even the climate here offered no favours. Standing at a bus stop, you talked out the side of your mouth, in case your lips got chapped. Maybe that was why the West of Scotland was where people put the head on one another—it was too cold to take your hands out your pockets.”

“A small and great city, his mind answered. A city with its face against the wind. That made it grimace. But did it have to be so hard? Sometimes it felt so hard. Well, that was some wind and it had never stopped blowing. Even when this place was the second city of the British Empire, affluence had never softened it because the wealth of the few had become the poverty of the many. The many had survived, however harshly, and made the spirit of the place theirs. Having survived affluence, they could survive anything. Now that the money was tight, they hardly noticed the difference. If you had it, all you did was spend it. The money had always been tight. Tell us something we don’t know. That was Glasgow. It was a place so kind it would batter cruelty into the ground. And what circumstances kept giving it was cruelty. No wonder he loved it. It danced among its own debris. When Glasgow gave up, the world could call it a day.”

“Laidlaw had a happy image of the first man out after the nuclear holocaust being a Glaswegian. He would straighten up and look around. He would dust himself down with that flicking gesture of the hands and, once he had got the strontium off the good suit, he would look up. The palms would be open.   ‘Hey,’ he would say. ‘Gonny gi’es a wee brek here? What was that about? Ye fell oot wi’ us or what? That was a liberty. Just you behave.’     Then he would walk off with that Glaswegian walk, in which the shoulders don’t move separately but the whole torso is carried as one, as stiff as a shield. And he would be muttering to himself, ‘Must be a coupla bottles of something still intact.’”
“They were sitting in the Glasgow University Club bar (…) Laidlaw was staring at his lime-juice and soda. Harkness was taking his lager like anaesthetic. Around them the heavy buildings and empty quadrangles seemed to shut out the city, giving them the feeling of being at the entrance to a shaft sunk into the past. Certainly, the only other two people in the room were having less a conversation than a seance, though they only seemed to summon the dead in order to rekill them.
    The talk of the two university men reminded Laidlaw of why he had left university at the end of his first year, having passed his exams. He found that the forty-year-old man agreed with the nineteen-year-old boy. He suspected that a lot of academics lived inside their own heads so much they began to think it was Mount Sinai. He disliked the way they seemed to him to use literature as an insulation against life rather than an intensification of it.
    He liked books but they were to him a kind of psychic food that should convert to energy for living. With academics the nature of their discipline seemed to preclude that. To take it that seriously would have annihilated the limits of aesthetics. Listening to their exchange of attitudes in what amounted to a private code, he didn’t regret the youthful impulse which had pushed him out into the streets and now brought him back here, by a circuitous and painful route, as an alien visitor. He didn’t want to be included in that clique of mutually supportive opinions that so often passes for culture.
    He remembered what had finally crystallised his rejection of university. It had been having to read and listen to the vague nonsense of academics commenting on the vague nonsense of much of what D. H. Lawrence wrote. Coming himself from a background not dissimilar to Lawrence’s, he thought he saw fairly clearly how Lawrence had put out his eyes with visions rather than grapple with reality that was staring him in the face. You needn’t blame him for hiding but you needn’t spend volumes trying to justify it either; unless, of course, it helped to make your own hiding easier to take.
    ‘A lot of what passes for intellectuality’s just polysyllabic prejudice,’ Laidlaw thought aloud.”

Laidlaw [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2020 by xi'an

I read William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw [in planes last week] after I saw it recommended as a pre-Rankin novel. Which inspired the whole tartan noir literature. Including Rankin’s books, most obviously. The book is set in 1970’s Glasgow, which sounds rougher and grittier than when I was visiting the West End two decades later. The city is described as dominated by thugs, at least in the popular areas, with ultra-violent men running the criminal world, while still maintaining some Calvinist principles. Especially about the place of women and their abhorrence of homosexuality. Besides the very dark atmosphere of the novel, Laidlaw is one of the least conventional crime novels I have read, with more inner dialogues than conversations (an issue with some Rebus novels!) and a strong dose of metaphysics on the nature of crime and justice, guilt and punishment. The style is also much more elaborated, to the point I often had to re-read sentences (some of which eventually escaped my understanding) and not only for the phonetic rendering of the Glaswegian accents (which is much more readable than Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting). The intellectual detective, Laidlaw, is sometimes drawn in heavy traits (like, why should he keep books by Kierkegaard or Camus and Unamuno in his drawer of his desk), prone to bouts of depression and migraine, and, like Rebus, facing a disintegrating marriage and an addiction to alcohol. Not to mention smoking as most characters are chain-smoking. (This aspect as well as the need to resort to phone booths sets the novel back in time.) His relations with the force are even worse than Rebus’, as his provocations of more traditional colleagues leave him mostly isolated and poorly appreciated by his superiors.

The central character may actually be Glasgow itself, so much do the characters move around it and add permanent descriptions of the feeling of the place(s). Far from pretty, it oozes fear and poverty, desperation and bigotry, but also some form of social link, strongly separated between sexes. The appalling status of women (at least of the women appearing in the novel) is subtly denounced by the novel, even though in an ambiguous way. All in all, an impressive book (and not “just” a crime novel).

Prague fatale [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2019 by xi'an

Another Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novel I order after reading [and taking place after] Prussian Blue, again with a double entendre title and plenty of smart lines representative of berliner Witz and Schnauze. But much darker than Prussian Blue, as the main character, Bernie Gunther, is getting more morally ambivalent, as a member of the SS, having participated in the mass murders of the Einsatzgruppen on the Eastern Front before his return to Berlin as a member of the intelligence branch of the SS. Under direct orders of Reinhard Heydrich, whose role in the novel is almost as central as Gunther’s. It is thus harder to relate to this anti-hero, and his constant disparagement of Nazis, when he is at the same time a significant if minor part of the Nazi State. It is also unplesant that most characters in the novel are mass murderers, to end up being executed after the war, as described in a post-note. Still, the story has strength in both the murder inquiry itself (until it fizzles out) and the immersion in 1942 Germany and Tchecoslovakia, a strength served by the historical assassination of Heydrich in May 1942. An immersion I do not wish to repeat in a near future, though…

As a side story, I bought this used book for £0.05 on Amazon and received a copy that looked as if it has been stolen from a library from East Renfrewshire, south of Glasgow, as it still had a plastic cover, the barcodes and the list of dates it had been borrowed. I thus called the central offices of the East Renfrewshire libraries to enquire whether or not the book had been stolen, and was told this was not the case, the book being part of a bulk sale of used books by the library to second hand sellers. And that I could enjoy reading the book at my own pace! (As a second order side story, East Renfrewshire is the place in Scotland where Rudolph Hess landed when trying to negociate on his own a peace treaty with Great-Britain in 1942.)

in a house of lies [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2019 by xi'an

While I found the latest Rankin’s Rebus novels a wee bit disappointing, this latest installment in the stories of the Edinburghian ex-detective is a true pleasure! Maybe because it takes the pretext of a “cold case” suddenly resurfacing to bring back to life characters met in earlier novels of the series. And the borderline practice of DI Rebus himself. Which should matter less at a stage when Rebus has been retired for 10 years (I could not believe it had been that long!, but I feel like I followed Rebus for most of his carreer…) The plot is quite strong with none of the last minute revelations found in some earlier volumes, with a secondary plot that is much more modern and poignant. I also suspect some of the new characters will reappear in the next books, as well as the consequences of a looming Brexit [pushed by a loony PM] on the Scottish underworld… (No,. I do not mean TorysTories!)

Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s building destroyed all over again

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , on June 16, 2018 by xi'an