No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, July 22, 2007

#33: Oddfellows -- Jack Dickson

Oddfellows is an extremely unsentimental look at gay life in the criminal twilight of Glasgow. It's told from the point of view of Joe Macdonald, dishonourably discharged from the army after assaulting an officer, and now the employee and lover of Billy King, nightclub owner and crime lord, who plucked Joe from destitution and disgrace.

Joe's personal relationships are complex. He's a father-figure to his dead brother Michael's teenage son Sean; he's beginning to realise that King's activities are far nastier than he'd thought; and he's attracted to Andy Hunter, the policeman investigating a series of especially unpleasant crimes.

Dickson's style is distinctive: a staccato narrative that, while detailing every action, frequently drops prepositions and pronouns.
Joe lifted eyes.
Smile. "I thought it was you." Bushy eyebrows raised.

Much of the dialogue takes the form of painstakingly-transcribed Glaswegian dialect:
That was when ah hit him ... when the MPs pult me aff, the guy oan the flair was deid an' ah'd hauf-kilt some ... captain.
Though it's notable that Joe's dialect becomes stronger when he's in the grip of some emotion.

The pacing's admirable: we get the facts early on, but their context only becomes apparent late in the novel. And even then, the nuances of Joe's relationship with his brother -- a relationship that has to be played out again with Sean, to teach him that some things don't belong in the real world -- simmer under the surface. Joe learns about himself, and his attraction to Billy (who smells, as Michael did, of Oddfellows sweets) throughout the novel.

There's some clumsy or lazy prose ("Sean's eyes met his. Blue pools overflowed onto scarlet cheeks.") but the unusual mix of compacted narrative and rich dialect blends into a surprisingly fluent and readable style.

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