Magazine article The Spectator

Driving in a Different Way

Magazine article The Spectator

Driving in a Different Way

Article excerpt

Driving in a different way Katie Grant

TRANSLATED ACCOUNTS

by James Kelman

Secker, L15.99, pp. 322, ISBN 0436274647

This is an extremely difficult book from a writer notorious for producing difficult books. Written in what has been called 'millennial English', of which the Wittgensteinian final chapter is a good example:

I cannot say about a beginning, or beginnings, if there is to be the cause of all, I do not see this. There are events, I speak of them, if I am to speak then it is these, if I may speak,

Translated Accounts is a novel with no plot, no identifiable characters and no specific historical or geographical backdrop. In its almost stand-alone chapters, it contains Kelman's trademark stream-of-consciousness internal monologues but no Glaswegian dialect or swearing. Anybody's granny could read this book without blushing.

Shorn, then, of the more controversial Kelmanesque trappings, with what are we left? We are left with a complex, powerful work that the reader struggles to get to grips with. Those new to Kelman may struggle the most, but even seasoned Kelman fans will not find Translated Accounts beach reading. The book compares with a car driven crazily out of control. Once you abandon your notions of what a car journey should be like, you find that this mode of driving is not actually crazy but just makes you think about driving in a different way. Kelman breaks most rules. He seldom constructs conventional sentences, preferring to write as if taking down notes to be worked up later into something more solid. But although this is often confusing and seemingly random, if you allow yourself to trust the author - which I know many people are reluctant to do with Kelman if you can make that leap, you begin to see that he is as careful with his words as, despite all appearances to the contrary, a modern composer is with his notes. …

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