underrated the case for Gordon Legge
Tuesday 25 July 1995
Those of you thinking Irvine Welsh, take 10 demerits. Welsh now lives in Amsterdam, thanks to the success of Trainspotting and its two successors. Gordon Legge, on the other hand, has yet to give up the day job (as a nursing assistant at Edinburgh's Royal Psychiatric Hospital).
While Welsh, Duncan McLean and Alan Warner are all feted by publishers in London, profiled in lifestyle magazines and hailed as the future of British fiction by the critics, Legge remains anchored to the tiny Edinburgh publisher, Polygon Press, earning advances equivalent to the price of a London working lunch. Underrated isn't the word for it - try unknown.
All of which shows the importance of timing and luck in establishing a literary career. For Legge was hacking away at the seam marked "the modern male Scottish psyche" long before Welsh and co had found the coalmine. His first book, The Shoe, published in 1989, dissects with comic accuracy life in small-town Scotland in the middle of that decade. Relishing the vigour of central Scottish vernacular (the book is set in the author's home town, Grangemouth), Legge revealed himself as the firstborn of James Kelman's "bairns", free to discard standard English for dialect. Unlike Kelman, however, Legge viewed pop culture as more important than politics. The Shoe is crammed with an almost fetishistic cataloguing of favourite records, films and football players - imagine if Nick Hornby supported Falkirk rather than Arsenal (another literary career Legge beat to the ball, but not the prize).
For Strathclyde University's Professor of English Literature and sometime pop journalist, Simon Frith, The Shoe is the finest fictional evocation of what it's like to be a fan, and rather better than Hornby's much praised recent novel, High Fidelity. The inclusion of an extract from The Shoe in the recent Faber Book of Pop, suggests the editors, Hanif Kureshi and Jon Savage, agree. Legge's most recent book, I Love Me (Who Do You Love?) continues to investigate the same milieu as The Shoe and his collection of short stories entitled In Between Talking About the Football. The characters are older, now struggling with lousy jobs and parenthood, but Legge maintains the same elements of comedy and soap opera. It's a book full of hippies, school kids, dole kids, office workers and media students, all drawn with Legge's characteristic generosity of humour.
Maybe that's Legge's problem. He's just not dark enough to be successful. Certainly, he's never as extreme as his contemporaries. There's none of those almost Tarantinoesque moments where horror and hilarity fuse, so characteristic of Trainspotting.
Instead, Legge's style is more redolent of the one writer he names as an influence. He's a straight, Scottish version of Armistead Maupin, with a permanent seat at the bar. And while, for many of us, the lifestyles chronicled in Trainspotting are alien, Legge's books will leave many post- adolescent males whispering "That's me! That's me!".
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