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Swing Hammer Swing! by Jeff Torrington
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Swing Hammer Swing!

by Jeff Torrington

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"Today I scratched my bum - yesterday, I didnae bother." Spend a week in the falling-apart Gorbals with Tam Clay, true wit, failed wordsmith, unprepared father-to-be, and canny critic of the demolition and redevelopment of 1960s Glasgow. Although the surroundings are desperately bleak, this is a sometimes hilarious piquaresque, with characters bizarre enough to sound like they were straight from real life. Our story begins with "Two guys standing in the snow outside a doomed cinema discussing the most efficacious method of preventing a deepsea diver from trying to deliver handouts to lamp-posts" and continues in the same semi-absurd but peculiarly realistic vein until the inevitable decline of this working-class area and its inhabitants is evident to all.

On his rambling mini-odyssey, Tam introduces us to the inhabitants of the Gorbals such as a drunk "doing the Boozer's Bolero - three steps forward on tippytoes, two back heavily on heels" and punter Talky who is the only one who can communicate with blind and deaf Salty: "Even the deef urnae oot-o-range of that bletherin wee bastard." But, along with the humor and the irreverence is also a huge dose of reality when it comes to these poor sods' actual circumstances - where will they all go when the Gorbals disappear? To the anonymity of the high-rise council flats - "vertical Barlinnies" - or, as some do, straight into a cold grave? Attempting to grasp that the world they know is crumbling beneath them is not only frightening, but near impossible to accept since they have no power to change anything: "the world's a bag of bees God pokes at with a stick and growls - 'Make honey, damn you'!"

One of Torrington's great strengths is his placing scenes of powerful symbolism juxtaposed with pseudo-flippant comments about very same scenes, such as putting old Salty at a lone table, palms upturned awaiting a friendly touch, without anyone able to explain that his only interpreter Talky has died, and only a few pages earlier, scorning the very same literary trope: "It was too bad that the blind in literature were doubly disadvantaged; readers tend to assume they're symbolic: 'I presume your blind chappy represents the spiritual myopia of contemporary society?' 'Well, naw, as a matter of fact he jist couldnae see!'"

Even with the abundant humor, be prepared for a sometimes challenging read, with Tam's various philosophical contemplations on the topics of life and death, but it's one that is highly rewarding in the end for these characters are well worth knowing with their enormous ability for warmth and caring, and well worth mourning for their powerlessness when it comes to their eventual futures. Tam comes up with his own solution in the end, but we don't get to forget that not all are as fortunate. ( )
7 vote -Eva- | Jun 22, 2013 |
My favorite book of all time. It is a pleasure to read and re-read! It is such a shame he only wrote two books. ( )
1 vote Lozz | Oct 10, 2009 |
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Epigraph
Now, the buildings they go up

Just as high as the sky

But me, I'm feelin low enough

Like I could die.

They say they're building this city

Fresh from the start

But there's a demolition party

Working down in my heart

I'm a man to pity

Got the blues, south city: Nothin to gain Nothing to lose

That's how it is with them

South City Blues.
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Something really weird was happening in the Gorbals - from the battered hulk of the Planet Cinema in Scobie Street, a deepsea diver was emerging.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0436531208, Paperback)

Set in the Gorbals, Glasgow in the late '60s. Christmas is approaching and Thomas Clay is beset by problems: his pregnant wife Rhoda is in the maternity hospital prematurely; he's waiting for a housing transfer; he has no job and his novel is unpublished. Goodwill does not, it seems, extend to him.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:15 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A week in the life of Tam Clay, Gorbals slum-dweller, father-in-waiting, and wordsmith manque of the 1960's.

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