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Fresh by Mark McNay


by Mark McNay

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Fresh is a quick, to-the-point read that is very easy to get sucked into.

This is a day-in-the-life account of Sean; a factory worker living from week to week in a Glasgow McNay paints in very harsh colours. It's winter, it's cold and grey, the characters are strong, brutal and looking out for themselves. But despite the poverty and grime of the setting, and the harsh practicality of everyday life here which screams at you from the very first page, there is a lot of gentleness to be found in this book. Sean's relationships with his family members are profoundly touching in their quiet passion and his unravelling feelings towards his brother, Archie, become truly upsetting and poignant.

There is also dark comedy in abundance here, particularly in the bawdy humour of the main characters. For all the tension, hatred and worry of Sean's day, we find our protagonist in a series of comic situations and engaged in a number of conversations which manage to be grossly entertaining.

The working class life Fresh describes is etched and mirrored into the small details of Sean's day; the monotony of the factory conveyor belts, his conversations with colleagues, the routine of rolling his cigarettes. Set against this though are the very powerful and wonderfully evocative descriptive passages of Sean's daydreams and flights of fancy throughout the day. From the perfection of a freshly laid out Sunday lunch with a wholesome, happy family, to the idea of himself as a bathing emperor being fed cooled grapes by a slave girl, Sean's imagination add patches of colour to his otherwise drab life and speak of a desire for change and a better life that the reader feels unable to begrudge him.

Fresh isn't in any way a perfect read though. Notwithstanding his efforts at writing the Scottish accent, McNay's writing is often clunky and stilted, and although this may be an attempt to capture the language skills at work in Sean's community, it comes off as poorly thought out and badly executed. Also, after the long build up to the inevitable confrontation between the two brothers, I felt the ending left a lot to be desired and the book jerked and stumbled its way to a very unsatisfying conclusion.

Fresh is above all a book about poverty, family and choice, and a well accomplished attempt at evoking the pain and humour of life for Glasgow's working class. ( )
  Clurb | Jul 24, 2008 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this novel as part of the Early Reviewers group.

Fresh is set in a single day in Glasgow, Scotland. Sean works in a chicken factory and is informed that his brother Archie is being released from prison several months early, which is a particular problem for Sean, as he owes a large sum of money to Archie that was entrusted to him when Archie was put in prison. Unfortunately Sean has spent a large portion of this, and so he attempts to scrape together enough money to pay Archie back.

The story is written from Sean's point of view, and is told, in the main, using a Scottish dialect in a similar style to Irvine Welsh. There are also a large number of flashbacks telling the story of Sean and Archie growing up together and Archie's descent into crime, as well as several shorter fantasy elements that show Sean daydreaming.

This is Mark McNay's debut novel, and is an enjoyable read. The story is fast-paced and both gritty and funny. Even when Sean has managed to pay Archie back, we are shown he still cannot escape the presence of his brother and ultimately he has to make difficult decisions as to whether to put his own family ahead of his brother. ( )
  olippold | May 9, 2008 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is Mark McNay’s first novel and clearly draws on first hand knowledge of the day to day grind of a certain working class life where a full belly, a warm fire and a good woman is perfection. It fits within a British tradition of “kitchen sink realism” kicked of by John Osbourne’s “Look back in Anger” in the 50’s that looks at the dreams and anger of the working class man and woman. Think of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday night and Sunday morning or the film work to the current day of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, both of whom continue to create powerful films unafraid of tackling head on current social problems.

The story follows a day in the life of Sean working in a chicken packing factory**, who discovers that his Brother Archie has come out of jail early ( in for violence and drugs related crime). This sets up a chain of events with tragic consequences as Sean has spent most of a money clip he was banking for his brother. He desperately struggles during the course of the day to borrow the money from family and from the firm. The novel also by flashbacks reveals Sean’s and Archie’s childhood and life up to the events of the day. Sean is no angel; he gambles, takes a more or less willing part as a pick up in his brother’s drug’s network and will use his fists. But unlike his brother does with his family needs in mind- his own and that of his uncle and aunt who gave him a home when his father left and mother died. And it’s for his family that he has to fight for as the day develops.

The story unfolds through a lot of dialogue and switches between first and third person perspectives rather then description although we get’s Sean’s flights of imagination for colour. The dialogue is written in Glaswegian but it doesn’t jar and often it’s in the silences between characters that speak more. The speech patterns (expect sentences where F**k can be a noun, verb, adjective and have several meanings from love to hate! and the mundane events of the day convey tenderness, violence and humour in scene after scene with warm believable characters.

It’s remarkable that the author started a creative writing course in his late forties in 1999 which lead to this award winning (Arts Foundation New Fiction 2007) novel. Hope for all us yet! It is by no means perfect, as the ending is a little flat and the characterisation of Archie teeters on the edge of caricature but it’s an easy page turner and I can’t wait for the Ken Loach channel four adaptation that surely must be in pre production talks as you read this!

** and you may want to rethink eating cheap value chicken after reading the book! ( )
  ablueidol | Apr 13, 2008 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Fresh by Mark McNay, its about two brothers from Glasgow, how they have grown apart and the lead up to the inevitable conclusion. Its written in a sort of pigeon Glaswegian in a similar stylised fashion as Irvine Welsh (complete with optional punctuation), which made my head hurt, but still its well written and you'll want to read to the end despite the writing style, the fact that it takes its own sweet time to get there, and the ending is a little predictable. I guess that doesn't make it sound attractive prospect but its good entertainment. ( )
  Tankplanker | Apr 8, 2008 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Read for Early Reviewers, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. A day in the life of the main character, Sean, is laid before us against the bleak, snowy background of a tough working day in a chicken factory in Glasgow. Sean's love for his family shines through the tough talk and tough laughs of the excellent dialogue. I have to disagree with some previous reviews - rather than stilted and clunky, I found the dialogue realistic and I really felt a great sympathy with the protagonist as he tried to break away from his relationship with his dysfunctinal brother and live a simple, happy life with his family.

I particularly enjoyed Sean's daydreams in which he was always a heroic figure, champion fighter, always in control and quietly adored by those around him. Set this against his life spiraling out of control when his brother is released early from prison. Even when Sean believes his debts to be paid it is clear that he cannot escape the menacing clutch of his brother.

This is gritty reading, darkly humerous and grossly violent by turns. Highly recommended - just don't read it over a plate of chicken portions! ( )
1 vote bibliobeck | Apr 6, 2008 |
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“The rhythm changed and the chickens came down faster and faster. Sean found it hard to catch up and they piled like corpses in the rain. As he tried to pick one up another would bounce off the back off his hand. Sometimes their legs, or shorn feet, would dig him right in the finger. It was like when you’re in a fight and the guy gets a couple in.” (p. 16)

Most of Sean O’Grady’s days are depressingly similar. He not only lives in a town he thought he would leave years ago, but he works a mindless, dead-end job in the fresh meat section at the local chicken processing plant. And as if he needed a reminder of the banality of life, the conveyor belt that flanks the wall where he works beats out a hypnotic rhythm that’s inescapable:


But it isn’t all bad. Fresh is the least of the gag-inducing departments in the plant and Sean’s uncle Albert works alongside him. Albert and his wife, Jessie, took Sean and his brother Archie in after their mother died, and treated them as if they were their own.

Sean hasn’t turned out too badly either: he has steady work at the plant, a good woman as his wife, and a fine daughter. But Archie is another matter. He got started as a career criminal early on, with stints in jail for teenage joy rides and small-time drug trafficking. That escalated soon enough and Archie is in prison – again.

Or so Sean thinks. One day Sean discovers that Archie is due out that very same day, and he panics. His brother had given him ₤1000 to keep while he was away and Sean has spent the money. Sean is certain that if he can’t get Archie’s money in time, his brother will kill him.

And he has good reason to believe the worst. Archie’s best friend and de facto henchman has already made it known that Sean had better be ready to hand over the cash or suffer the consequences. Sean has witnessed his brother’s brutality first-hand, which confirms his conviction that any brotherly affection Archie might have for Sean won’t stand in the way of him getting his money back – all of it.

With the down-at-heel joie de vivre of Roddy Doyle and the wacko plottings of Irvine Welsh, Fresh is a white-knuckle ride through one forgettable day in the life of Sean O’Grady. Mark McNay’s debut will leave you bowled-over and breathless and marks the arrival of a major new talent.

From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:57 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Sean's days are of a kind. The factory, the line, the chickens, and his dreams of escape. His brother Archie gets out of jail on early release, which would be great if Archie weren't a little loose in the head - and if Sean didn't still owe him a grand.… (more)

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