Book #64

The Black Dog by Kevin Bridges


Declan dreams of becoming a writer. It's a dream that helps him escape the realities of his life - going through the motions at college and stacking supermarket shelves part-time, whilst fighting a battle with the ever-darkening thoughts in his head.

He has his pet Labrador for companionship and his best friend-turned-mentor, a pseudo-intellectual who works as a greenskeeper at the local municipal golf course, both of which help keep the worst of his anxieties at bay. But following a drunken row with local gangsters, Declan's worries threaten to spiral out of control.

James Cavani - Declan's idol and his hometown's claim to fame - is a renowned writer, director and actor. But despite his success, his past hasn't relinquished its hold of him, and through his younger sister's battle with drug addiction, he finds himself returning to a world he thought he had escaped.

At face value, their lives couldn't be more different, but perhaps fate has a way of bringing kindred spirits together - and perhaps each holds the other's redemption in their hands.

One of Glasgow’s most strongly held opinions is that Kevin Bridges is an excellent storyteller. As you sit in the audience at one of his shows, you are being taken on a journey through Kevin’s mind as he weaves hilarious tales for you, bringing you along with him to familiar places and introducing you to people who you would come across anywhere in Scotland.

The Black Dog, his first fiction novel, is no different. We are on our own turf, meeting people who frequent our own pubs. The wee dafty, the big hard man, the bolshy maw, the stricken, the addicted. They are all there, and the social commentary on them, and their situations, is realistic and complex.

I did expect it to be funnier than it was, but there wasn’t much within the plot to be joked about. The first few pages were total carnage, and the type of thing I thought would be projected throughout the novel, but we’re soon dipped into the darkness of Glasgow streets and the dangers lurking around them. The way mental health problems and the culture of working class oppression is depicted was wonderful, yet there’s very little someone can make funny about these themes, so I very quickly had to adjust my expectations.

And although I was eager to find out the fate of our characters, the plot sometimes felt as though it dragged along without purpose. A strong start and an excellent ending, but somewhere in the middle I began to lose concentration.

Despite it all, I enjoyed this one, and I’d be interested to read any other offerings from Bridges. I’ve had a great time today reading reviews slating this book for its bad language and Scottish vernacular - fuckin grow up.