Just back from the Book Festival and one of our most hotly anticipated shows of the EIBF – a joint performance by two of my favourite Scottish authors, Doug Johnstone and Alan Bissett.
Doug, of course, published his third novel ‘Smokeheads’ earlier this year whilst Alan’s fourth novel ‘Pack Men’ is due for an imminent release.
One of the beauties of the Book Festival though is the opportunity to get some of the books ahead of the official release date and as a consequence I’d managed to finish ‘Pack Men’ the other night before going out tonight.
‘Pack Men’ is both a sequel to Bissett’s debut novel ‘Boyracers’ and a candid exploration of tribalism and sectarianism in Scotland. In terms of the latter I suspect it may not satisfy either camp in the end – Bissett has a talent for humanising some fairly undesirable characters and in doing so he lifts the lid on why the tribalism is attractive to many. Equally, by pointing out the more undesirable aspects of this tribalism, he may alienate a large section of that particular tribe despite presenting them in a somewhat sympathetic light.
As ever his characters are completely believable and three dimensional and it’s fair to say that no-one within the book ends up where you might expect them to.
‘Pack Men is a fine example of the thought provoking, contemporary Scottish novel and an impressive addition to the Bissett back catalogue.
In person this evening, as you might expect, the pair were both entertaining and had plenty to say about both their writing and our society today. And some of the issues raised in the book naturally came up in this evening’s q&a.
One interesting comparison though was the way that Doug admitted that the whole sectarian issue was something, in real life, he hadn’t been exposed to too often. I’m not sure it’s a completely West Coast problem but the discussion certainly threw up an interesting slant on the East/West divide.
Inevitably the event was brought to a close when I’m sure the audience would have happily stayed for another half hour. At least. But it was still as good an event as I’ve seen this year at the Festival and if you get the chance to see these guys in the same room at the same time, then jump at it.