Mo Said She Was Quirky by James Kelman

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Mo Said She Was Quirky by James Kelman

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: As ever with Kelman this is a stylish book with strong political points. Entertaining but beware - the head of the neurotic lead character can be an uncomfortable place to be at times.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 240 Date: August 2012
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 9780241144565

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Mo may have said that Helen was quirky - neurotic might have been a more accurate assessment of his partner though. Although not a first person narrative, James Kelman's latest is another dramatic monologue, although the first time he has placed a female as his main character. Helen is a single mother, working nights as a croupier in a London casino. Mo is her Asian boyfriend. In fairness to Helen, she has a lot to worry about - a damaged upbringing that has seen her older brother leave home without trace, a failed marriage, and a life of constant struggle. As usual with Kelman, his approach is tender, yet gritty and often gently amusing. He's always sympathetic to his main characters. However, if you are new to Kelman, be warned that he is a writer that is heavy on a distinctive style more than plot per se.

When Helen sees a possibly familiar face on the way home one morning, this leads her to look at her past and where she is in life. All the action takes place over the space of just a couple of days most of which involves Helen's own internal dialogue. She repeats herself, argues with herself and her worries are somewhat wearing at times, but she also addresses a lot of important issues about society and relationships. She is self-depreciating, but much of what she says or thinks is thoughtful and insightful.

The setting of Helen's work in a casino where people are gambling money that Helen can only dream of is particularly inspired.

Kelman's style may not be to everyone’s taste but he's very good at what he does. At times the repetition of some of the arguments can be slightly irritating but it’s highly readable. Often this 'stream of consciousness' style can see long, convoluted sentences, but Kelman's approach is the opposite - lots of short sentences and most streams of thought are pursued to a logical end.

The narrative is broken by a few pieces of dialogue which feel very real. It’s tempting to wish for more of these, particularly those involving her six year old daughter, but part of Helen's problem is that with her working nights, Mo working evenings in a restaurant and daughter Sophie at school, there are precious few times when all three are in the same place at the same time. In particular I'd loved to have seen more about the relationship between Sophie and Mo.

The feeling of the book can be a little claustrophobic - being locked inside Helen's head is a very busy place to be - but overall it works very well. There's just enough tension in Helen's decision to search out the mysterious face she encounters early on to carry the plot through to a poignant ending.

Our thanks to the kind people at Hamish Hamilton for sending us this book.

For more terrific Scottish themed fiction with a political slant, check out And The Land Lay Still by James Robertson.

Buy Mo Said She Was Quirky by James Kelman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mo Said She Was Quirky by James Kelman at

Buy Mo Said She Was Quirky by James Kelman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mo Said She Was Quirky by James Kelman at


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