Books: Oot and aboot - sometimes

Nail and Other Stories by Laura Hird, Rebel Inc pounds 8.99
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The Independent Culture
Among the Scottish talent on offer in the Children of Albion Rovers anthology, Laura Hird had already attracted admiring critical attention for her novella "The Dilating Pupil". Now her first collection confirms the flowering of a wonderfully versatile imagination on the literary horizon - and one unafraid of a few thistles and creepy crawlies.

Laura Hird likes her background dark. There is an almost Roald Dahlish glee in creating monsters and cooking up grotesque desserts for them. A twisted landlord with ever more Kafkaesque excuses for not returning his tenants' deposits has justice served up in a flaming chip pan. An abandoned wife takes revenge on her estranged husband by systematically terrorising his cat. The title story brings retribution to a fastidious, insufferable snob in the form of unsightly vegetation sprouting from under her usually pristine index fingernail, and this is closely followed by a growth on her nose "like a nicotine-stained maggot".

Rendering of Scottish dialect is in most stories restricted to the dialogue, though when the narrative voice itself goes native, as in "Routes", with the 12-year-old lad having a miserable birthday riding round on Edinburgh buses, it's not so much vocabulary that gives pause (you can pretty well work out if "barrie" or "clarty" mean good or awful), but why there should be a "hoose" in one sentence and a "house" in the next. Her apparently random "oots" and "outs", "aboots" and "abouts" look more like editorial vagary to me.

Hird is a lover of sexual farce. Two very middle-aged couples link up to plan a bout of geriatric swinging with cringe-making bravado and unexpected results, while in another story a recently deceased lesbian wafts invisibly round her bereaved girlfriend who, to the wraith's chagrin, then finds solace with a smelly male suitor.

There is fine pacing to the dramas, and careful crafting that is not ostentatious. But the keynotes here are wit and energy: sharp and steady - right on the nail.