Jamie's Keepsake by Michael Gallagher
|Jamie's Keepsake by Michael Gallagher|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A splendid coming-of-age novel set in the Glasgow of the 1970s. The character development is excellent and Glasgow is a character in its own right. Highly recommended|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 282||Date: January 2020|
|Publisher: Independently published|
When we first meet Alex Hannah, he's just being released from the Southern General Hospital. The nurse thinks he'll come back to visit the other patients but Alex has no intention of doing that: he's been there for a year, on the same ward where his brother died and now, with his hair all shorn off, he's going home in his dead brother's clothes. He wants to get outside and back with his friends: his brother, Forbes, says that the fresh air will do him good and his mother tells him that he's not to mention TB and to say it was tonsillitis. Good luck with that one, Alex.
Some good has come from the tragedy though. The Hannah family had been moved from the slum where they'd been living into the Hardridge Housing Scheme. It's bright and new, much healthier for the Hannahs, particularly now that baby Sarah has come along. There are two problems though: Da hasn't got any work and although the dole money isn't much he still feels entitled to have his 20p accumulator at the bookies. The more serious problem is Alex's mother. She's struggling to cope with the baby and is still stricken with grief for Peter. At one stage she had thought that she was going to lose Alex too. It's all been too much for her. Just occasionally, the mother he remembers shines through the fog of her existence but it is only occasionally.
It was a relief to get out with his mates. He was close to Jamie Bryce and attracted to Shona Coghlin - Coggie to her friends unless she can persuade them otherwise. Nathan was the budding and talented artist who wasn't keen on what they were teaching him at art school. McPeat was McPeat - and grateful that people didn't know his name was Cornelius. There was a streak of criminality running through all the lads but there was no dishonour about it. It was simply what you did to turn a few pennies. They didn't do houses but it would almost have been impolite to go into a shop and not snaffle as much as you could get away with. The lads even spend their time building a doocot (think about it) to entice expensive homing pigeons to them.
When they discovered the Burrell Collection crated up in an old building, the temptation was too much on two fronts. The cataloguing of the artefacts was haphazard at best and it was possible to remove small items which wouldn't be missed. They could then negotiate down at the pawnshop. Alex had seen something he really wanted, though. There was a painting called The Lady in a Fur Wrap, supposedly painted in 1577 by El Greco, which reminded him of his mother in the days when Peter was still alive. If he could get that picture for her, he thought it would cheer her up, bring her back to how she used to be. It would become an obsession.
The characterisation is excellent. You're rooting for all of the lads - and their families. They've none of them been dealt the best of hands but they're doing their best to make something of themselves - legally or illegally. It was wonderful to watch Alex mature and realise that he could make something of himself. He's fortunate to lose the dragon of a teacher whom you see him start with and get one who inspires him, who encourages him to believe that he could go to university. Every other character comes off the page and speaks to you and that's talent when you have a cast of boys of much the same age and background.
You'll laugh and you'll cry: I sobbed unashamedly at one point. For a book which is deceptively measured and matter-of-fact, you'll spend an awful lot of time on the edge of your seat, hoping that one of the lads won't do something stupid - and then praying that he'll get away with it. You'll never stop hoping that everything will work out for the lads - and, days after you've finished reading, you'll still be thinking about them, wondering how they're getting on.
I'd like to thank the publisher for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
As I was reading Jamie's Keepsake, I couldn't help but think of Kane's Ladder by Carlos Alba. In the same way that Alex was jealous of his brother for dying, the relatively prosperous Steve, of Kane's Ladder wants to be like his best friend whose father is a drunkard. Both authors know how teenage boys think - and they know their Glasgow.
You can read more about Michael Gallagher here.
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