Monday, April 29, 2013

Mo Said She Was Quirky by James Kelman

TITLE: Mo Said She Was Quirky
AUTHOR: James Kelman
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Other Press/April 2013 (originally published by Penguin/2012)
SOURCE: For Review from Other Press via Netgalley


Mo Said She Was Quirky is definitely an original story, I'll give it that. For James Kelman plot seems to be an unnecessary device. Granted my experience with Kelman is like zero, this is my first of his books. But, in this particular book there is definitely next to no plot. It's an interesting literary technique and I don't think I'm qualified to speak to how successful it is, but I can say it didn't really work for me.

Mo Said She Was Quirky is basically a novel written as a stream of consciousness. It follows a day in the life of Helen, a Glaswegian croupier living in London with her six year old daughter and English-Pakistani boyfriend. On the way home from work one night she sees a homeless man crossing the street whom she believes to be her estranged older brother. After this event we follow her thoughts as she goes throughout her day.

I think the stream of consciousness technique is interesting in theory, but it just didn't work for me with this particular novel and I couldn't really get past it. Helen's thoughts are just too vague, too broad. She spends most of her day contemplating the state of her life, but their are no conclusions or decisions. Which okay, fair enough. If Kelman's aiming for realism people are indecisive, things don't make sense. But there were these huge generalizations on the state of the world. Helen doesn't just think about her life and her issues, she thinks about the state of women. girls are women, but they're not women. Girls are girls. Girls are different than boys and so on. It began to drive me up the wall. She never got into the specifics of her life. She thought about her life only in relation to that of so many others. I didn't care about her thoughts on the general state of humanity, I wanted to read about her. I wanted to understand what she was thinking about seeing her brother or living in a cramped apartment with two other people or her divorce. I didn't care what she thought of men in particular if I never got to read about what she thought about the men in her life.

Despite spending 300 pages with Helen I never felt like I knew her. I think I should have a pretty good grasp of the character if the book is seriously just a peek into this one person's brain. But I don't. Her ex is always her ex. No names. The casino she works at is never described in detail. Even Mo, he works at a restaurant, he thinks she's quirky. I don't think I know anything about their relationship. Not really. I just think this device could have been better utilized.

The other major issue I had with this book was Kelman's use of repetition. Again, realism, yes, people think repetitive thoughts. But can't that be toned down at all? I'm sure it has a literary use. I studied the literary use of repetition. I just didn't like it. I thought it was overused. Repetition can work to emphasize, but when it's used so many times over the course of the book it becomes meaningless. My eyes just started to glaze over sentences because I felt like I'd read them time and time again.

Overall, Mo Said She Was Quirky was not the book for me. My review doesn't mention anything about character or development because I couldn't focus on them. I just got so hung up on these literary devices as a reader that I lost track of the story, for lack of a better word. I couldn't connect to Helen or what she was feeling because I felt so alienated by the stylistic choices. Some people might love these choices, I just don't happen to be one of them.

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