Novels set in Glasgow often play up to the grittier side of the city. Ever since the success of ‘No Mean City’ writers would ramp up the violence, hard drinking and gang culture as if these were somehow unique to my home town. But in the last 20 years there have been many Glasgow novels that don’t feel the need to play to those stereotypes. The city is a place people live rather than a character in its own right, one which has a negative necessary effect on its inhabitants. One of these novels is Zoe Strachan’s 2004 novel ‘Spin Cycle’. Terrible things happen, but these are not the fault of Glasgow, rather they are comments upon the way people can treat each other, and the result is that the stories told are all the more believable.

‘Spin Cycle’ focuses on the lives and secrets of three women Agnes, Myrna and Siobhan who all work in the same laundrette in the West End of Glasgow. Although the three support each other through the working day they each have secrets which they keep to themselves. Agnes is the matriarch of the trio and she continues to obsess over the murder of her cousin Vina outside the Barrowland ballroom which happened when Agnes was in her teens. This has had a deep psychological effect on her and has led her to be suspicious of most people as well as fixating on real-life crimes.

Myrna is leading a double life that is doomed from the start. Her need for money sees her become an escort which often results in her having sex in various rooms of hotels with men of recent acquaintance. This excites her at the beginning, and she tells herself that it is a glamorous life in which she is in control, but this turns out to be a self deception on a dangerous scale, and she comes to realise that the decisions she has made are not from a sense of adventure but are acts of desperation.

Siobhan is the youngest and has yet to have the life lessons which her older companions have had, and as a result her view on life contains a strong fantasy element, although you can argue that all three are in thrall to different tales of their own creation. Siobhan is trying to work out who she is and how to become that person. Her fantasies seem borne from frustration, sexual and otherwise, and Strachan is hinting at the danger of self suppression.

Sex and violence are at the heart of ‘Spin Cycle’, either imagined or very real. Strachan’s greatest achievement is to gently introduce readers to her characters so that we care about them and their lives. By the time thinks take darker turns we are hooked and genuinely concerned for how things will turn out for these three women. This is a visceral novel at times, but in the end an optimistic one as the woman start to realise that the support they can give each other will benefit them all. For all the bleak times the ultimate view on humanity is a positive one.

Not a lot of music in the novel, but there is mention of the delights of The Cramps and I need no other reason than to insert them here. This is ‘Ultra Twist’:

Last year Zoe Strachan published ‘Ever Fallen in Love’ to critical acclaim and if you’ve enjoyed ‘Spin Cycle’ it is highly recommended. Strachan manages to tell the stories of recognisable people with personal problems which we all fear could happen to us if life had turned out differently.  If I was forced to compare her to another writer that Indelible Ink has featured it would be Agnes Owens in that they share an apparently effortless style and bring a warmth and humanity to often dark tales, and I would really struggle to give higher praise than that.

Alistair

Further thoughts on Scottish books, film, music, comedy, theatre and the like can be found at scotswhayhae which now has a Facebook home.

The books that we deal with in ‘Indelible Ink’ can be bought from the Dear Scotland shop:

Next Month’s Novel: Ewan Morrison has been writing novels and short stories since his excellent collection of short stories ‘The Last Book You Read’ was published in 2005. His latest book ‘Tales From the Mall’ is a collection of prose and essays concerning the modern phenomenon of the shopping mall and those who live and work there.

In between these two he published three novels, and ‘Swung’, which has been optioned by Sigma Films, is next month’s choice. It is a novel which takes sex and sexuality seriously, one which avoids titillation to remain psychologically insightful and always challenging.

  1. Ewan Morrison Swung (Jun)
  2. Martin Millar Lux the Poet (Jul)
  3. Andrew Raymond Drennan The Immaculate Heart (Aug)
  4. Ajay Close Forspoken (Sep)
  5. Nina De La Mar 4a.m. (Oct)