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Mary M. McGlynn’s Narratives of Class in New Irish and Scottish Literature: From Joyce to Kelman, Doyle, Galloway, and McNamee [End Page 647] gives a reading of novels from Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland from the 1980s and 1990s that, McGlynn argues, challenge “the conventional hierarchies governing our reception of novels” (8). The novels by James Kelman, Roddy Doyle, Janice Galloway, and Eoin McNamee that the book covers are important for McGlynn because they are representative of an “emergent local literature” that “retreats from nationalism and working-class stereotypes” (8). However, what is particularly noteworthy for McGlynn is the manner in which the “formal innovations” that spark this retreat are combined in these novels with a “working-class reinterpretation of national identity” (8). McGlynn’s argument suggests that the “formal innovation” that brings about this “working-class reinterpretation” is the result of the writers’ representation of aspects of working-class life in a new way in their narratives. In post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, where the nightmare of long dole queues and emigration has returned, McGlynn’s analysis of the representation of poverty, an age-old theme in modernist Irish writing from O’Casey and Joyce to Kavanagh, provides a welcome opportunity for revisiting the class antagonisms that the economic boom only exacerbated.
McGlynn’s project is an ambitious one. Her introduction, entitled “The Poor Mouth,” makes good use of such theorists as Michel de Certeau and Henry Lefebvre in examining how what she cites as the “superior command over space” is representative of a vital aspect of the class struggle. McGlynn’s analysis of class narratives in these works sets out to pay particular attention to how these narratives describe or embody “the creation and maintenance of spaces with both liberating and restrictive potentials” (17). McGlynn’s work will also link the different strands of emergent literature, the class struggle, and the construction of space in each of these writers to what she describes as Joyce’s use of “textual innovation to distance his texts from reductively national identifications” (18). Joyce becomes the glue that binds all these writers around a theme that has tradition on its side in its questioning of class stereotypes through narrative.
The chapters on Kelman and Doyle are the most successful at achieving the aims set out above. McGlynn does a good job of describing the aims of the “Glasgow School” Kelman sometimes inhabits. The chapter is careful to note that analyses of class in novels that treat “marginalised populations” sympathetically very often function to “reinforce the exteriority” of the “nonconventional speech and speakers” (41). McGlynn’s analysis of the formal advances incorporated by Kelman into such works as How Late It Was, How Late focuses on the mimetic voices and the dissonance inherent in the clashing of dialects, voices, and slang in Kelman’s work. These different voices are seen as representing class relations rather than a hegemonic [End Page 648] class dynamic, and they “signify the existence of class antagonisms” (42) as John Kirk suggests for McGlynn. McGlynn argues persuasively for the narrative’s embodying of these class antagonisms with her sensitive treatment of form and slang in the novel: she observes that “there is no point at which a nondemotic narrative voice is in control” (44). McGlynn argues that Kelman exploits to the full the way such an array of narrative voices can speak for class antagonisms. Together with his exploration of “working class themes, settings and characters” Kelman can stretch “existing critical frameworks,” not least in relation to “paradigms of nation” (48). However, when class is the issue, then Marx must always be lurking somewhere in the background like a spectre. McGlynn finally addresses this aspect late in the chapter when she argues: “Less illusory than myth or Marxism, grammatical freedom and formal change here have the possibility of generating a way out through emphasis on the local” (64). In other words, it is the emphasis on, and privileging of, the local that would appear to...