Kieron Smith, Boy, By James Kelman

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The Independent Culture

The first few pages of this novel reminded me of the first few pages of Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The child's consciousness of the world around him, at once dreamy and acute, is given with the same clarity and faithfulness. But James Kelman's boy grows up slower than Joyce's. Aged around seven at the start, by the end of the book he is still only 12. One of the most remarkable things is the way that the narrator's language gradually alters as he ages; though he retains his working-class Glaswegian dialect throughout, the vocabulary becomes richer, the perceptions more sophisticated.

Kieron is a boy who thinks: about the differences between Papes and Proddies, lads and lasses, snobs and keelies. He knows which of his friends are real pals and which aren't; he knows what's fair and what isn't. An immensely likeable narrator, Smiddy (as he likes to be called) is more honest and understanding and has more generous sympathies than many an adult. Not a huge amount happens (Kieron moves, he goes to a new school, his grandfather dies) but there are few novels which give a better sense of what it's like to be a thinking person living in this curious world.