There have been a few great Glasgow novels discussed on these pages; Alasdair Gray’s ‘Lanark’, Jeff Torrington’s ‘Swing Hammer Swing’ and James Kelman’s ‘Kieron Smith, boy’ are just three examples, but perhaps the most recognisable literary depictions of the city can be found in Archie Hind’s ‘The Dear Green Place’. Hind didn’t opt for the fantastical, surreal or unreliable as can be found in the above. His Glasgow is a much more realistic city, and as such what happens in the novel has a greater intensity and a profound impact on the reader.
It was Hind’s only novel published in his lifetime, but that’s perhaps not surprising once you’ve read the book. It has at its heart the difficulties that occur if your dreams are to live your life as an artist, and they are then placed against the need not only to feed yourself and family, but to fulfill the expectations of others. You get the feeling that Hinds poured his life onto these pages. This is a powerful novel with a story which will be recognisable to many.
The central character is Mat Craig, a young man who wants to be a writer, something his family cannot understand or accept. 1960s Glasgow plays an important role in the novel as its often bleak and unforgiving landscape seems to suppress Mat’s artistic leanings as much as the majority of people who live there. Both seem to be telling him, ‘know your place, and don’t get ideas above your station’. Becoming a writer, even suggesting it, is not macho enough for this city. The title of the novel becomes ironic, if not downright sarcastic.
Mat is pulled in different directions, not only by his family and friends, but by his own heart and head. Part of him feels it is his destiny and legacy to work with his brother, believing that blood, sweat and tears is the true nature of the working class, but he cannot shake the voice which says that he must pursue his dreams to be true to himself. Whichever route he chooses he will be betraying one or the other.
‘The Dear Green Place’ is perhaps closer in feel and subject matter to the kitchen sink dramas set mainly in the North of England than to other Scottish novels; films such as ‘A Taste of Honey’, ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’ and ‘A Kind of Loving’. They all share an urban realism and angst that avoids self pity or misplaced sympathy. What they reflect is lives where no decision comes without consequence when set against a background of poverty, and that the mythologized ‘swinging ‘60s’ were not as free and easy as some historical reflections would have you believe.
There are many songs dedicated to Glasgow, but one of its greatest commentators was Adam McNaughtan, a folk singer probably best known for his songs ‘The Buildings’ and ‘The Jeely Piece Song’. His was a Glasgow that he shared with Hind, and this makes his song ‘Dear Green Place’ even more apt:
And here is Archie Hind’s fellow writer, and good friend, Alasdair Gray reading from ‘The Dear Green Place’ and talking about the man himself:
At the beginning of ‘The Dear Green Place’, there is a wonderful description of the River Clyde as it moves from the hills down through ‘Hamilton, Bothwell and Blantyre’ into Glasgow itself, following the twists and turns of the journey and detailing the history that occurred on and beside the river. It is a wonderfully vivid description, one that I have often thought would make a great opening to a film or TV adaptation, and Hind’s marvellous descriptions of people and place make me wonder why his novel has never been dramatised on screen.
The questions which ‘The Dear Green Place’ poses are as relevant today as they have been at anytime in the recent past. The idea of making a living from writing, or any other art form, is, for most people, as unrealistic as ever. The vast majority of writers ‘Indelible Ink’ has featured have had to have, or continue to have, other ways of surviving. Perhaps that is inevitable, but ‘The Dear Green Place’ reminds us that most people who follow a life in any of the arts are bound for a struggle, but how much would our lives be lessened if they did not do so. These books we read are not just hobbies, they are people’s lives, and we would understand our own much less without them. Same as it ever was.
Next Month’s Novel: Scottish writing is awash with alcohol. This column alone has featured books such as last month’s ‘Mr Alfred M.A.’ (in fact everything George Friel ever wrote), ‘The Sound Of My Voice’, ‘Paradise’, ‘The Ossians’, ‘The Immaculate Heart’, ‘The Stornoway Way’, ‘Kill Your Friends’ and ‘Be Near Me’, all of which have alcohol as one of their central themes.
Laura Marney’s ‘No Wonder I Take A Drink’ is a blackly comic tale of a woman’s desire to escape, both mentally and physically, from her life. The subject matter may be familiar, but Marney’s style makes this one of the most surprising novels you will have read for some time.
- Laura Marney No Wonder I Take A Drink (Jun)
- Karin Altenberg Island of Wings (Jul)
- Des Dillon, Me and Ma Gal (Aug)
- Muriel Spark, The Driver’s Seat (Sep)
- Sophie Cooke, The Glass House (Oct)