It has to be said that there is not a great deal of humour in many of the books we have covered in Indelible Ink so far, and when there is, such as with Irvine Welsh’s ‘Trainspotting’, Alan Spence’s ‘Way To Go’ or John Niven’s ‘Kill Your Friends’ it is so dark that many will not be able to see it. Laura Marney’s ‘No Wonder I Take A Drink’ is a few shades lighter, but only by comparison. It’s still a case of ‘You might as well laugh, otherwise the only option would be to cry’.

This is clear from the opening, when the narrator, Trisha, is remembering the last hours of her mother’s life, where she sneaks vodka in to the hospice to comply with a dying woman’s last wishes, only to be upbraided for watering it down. To the end her mother is hyper-critical of her daughter, and in this scene are the roots of the story that unfolds.

Approaching 40, Trisha’s life is on the verge of falling apart completely. As well as her mother’s death, her husband and teenage son have moved out of the family home and there is little chance of reconciliation. When it is proposed that they move back in together, but including Dad’s new girlfriend, Helga, then Trisha decides to head north, but not before she redecorates the bedroom in spectacular fashion.

She inherits a house in the Highlands, and rather than dealing with her situation in Glasgow, she grabs the chance to start again. Unfortunately not only does she take her problems with her, she finds a whole new set of complications to add to them. Dreaming of meeting a new man, when she does, in the shape of her near neighbour Jackie, it seems that she scares him off in no uncertain manner.

The ideal highland life which she imagined fails to unfold, with the locals dealing in gossip and innuendo, and the landscape dominated by mist and midges. Meanwhile, her son is failing at school and then goes missing, and she has to try and deal with this while miles away. As the title says, no wonder she takes a drink.

That is how Trisha copes with her life, or at least avoids coping with it. Her drinking is not the chronic, hallucinatory, alcoholism of Magellan in Ron Butlin’s ‘The Sound Of My Voice’ or Hannah Luckcraft in A.L. Kennedy’s ‘Paradise’. This is something which will be recognisable to many people either in themselves, or in others. A double instead of a single measure, an extra drink at the bar when getting the round in, the regular rituals involved in hangover management. Trisha mistakenly believes that her drinking is under control and manageable. Until it isn’t.

At one point, before their relationship becomes strained, Jackie sings to Trisha one of Robert Burns’ greatest songs, ‘Green Grow The Rashes O’’, and here is a clip of Deacon Blue covering the song:

It would be a mistake to think that because Marney writes with a dry and often cynical sense of humour that her work isn’t to be taken seriously. In my experience this is the way that most people cope with the bad things in life. They make a joke against themselves, and those nearest and dearest, attempting to make light because they don’t know what else to do. At times you may laugh with, and even at, Trisha and the situations she finds herself in, but you’ll also sympathise and perhaps even empathise with her plight. Hers are the tears of a clown.

Alistair

All of these columns can now be found in one place over at Indelible Ink.

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

Next Month’s Novel: Recently Scotland’s Highlands and Islands have been the setting for all sorts of interesting and diverse books, from Kevin MacNeil’s ‘The Stornoway Way’ and the fabulous collection of poetry which he edited, ‘These Islands We Sing’, through Robert Alan Jamieson’s ‘Da Happie Laand’ and Neil Butler’s ‘The Roost’ to the recently published ‘Orkney’ by Amy Sackville.

To those you can add next month’s novel, ‘Island of Wings’ by Karin Altenberg.

Two newly-weds are going to live of the remote island of St Kilda, where their relationship will be sorely tested against the backdrop of one of Scotland’s most remote locations.

  1. Karin Altenberg Island of Wings (Jul)
  2. Des Dillon, Me and Ma Gal (Aug)
  3. Muriel Spark, The Driver’s Seat (Sep)
  4. Sophie Cooke, The Glass House (Oct)
  5. Leila Aboulella, The Translator (Nov)

 

 

Comments

  1. Dear Alistair
    thank you so much for your thoughtful review and also for the link to the song which was wonderful. the line ‘the sweetest oor that ere I spent were spent amang the lassies oh’ works well for Jackie because he’s a womaniser but it’s also a strangely powerful lyric- the sweetest oors are always with those we love, all the best, Laura Marney

  2. Hi Laura,
    thanks so much for getting in touch, and I’m glad you appreciated the review, and the musical interlude. I hadn’t read the novel in a while, and it was such a pleasure to re-read, and it revealed much more second time round.