Monday, September 21, 2015

For Review: Talk of the Toun ~ Helen MacKinven

It's becoming less of a rarity in Scottish fiction to find a novel set in my home town of Falkirk, but whenever I do come across one it is very exciting. Talk of the Toun follows Angela as she makes her plans to leave the town for art school in Glasgow. However, doing so from a council scheme in the 80s isn't so easy, not when her family expect her to leave school to take a job. Meanwhile, Angela's friendships are falling apart, as well as her own self-esteem.

Talk of the Toun is narrated from Angela's point of view, and it is her story of trying to escape her life and of her difficult relationships with friends and family. Angela doesn't have much in the way of confidence - she is overweight, aware that she isn't as cool or attractive as her best friend Lorraine - but she still dreams of the various ways that the future will be much better for her. Angela imagines living in a flat in Glasgow with Lorraine, going out at the weekends, the hot guys they'll meet. However, when Lorraine starts spending more time with her new boyfriend Stevie, Angela's jealousy begins to slowly destroy those possibilities.

Angela is a complex character, but not one that I liked. Having been a teenage girl in Falkirk myself, it was amusing to see how much I could identify with the girls, how they did their best to entertain themselves, their complaints of the town. However, Angela did not come across to me like a nice person in the slightest. She is very selfish, always looking out only for herself in ways that become increasingly obvious as the novel unfolds. In order to get Lorraine away from Stevie, Angela tells a lie that is utterly disgusting and unforgivable. And yet, she doesn't see at any stage that what she has done might be wrong. Even following horrific events that happen to Lorraine, Angela doesn't seem to quite make the connection.

That said, the dislike wasn't something to put me off reading this novel. If anything, I wanted to see what would happen to Angela, and to her friends and family. Angela's grandmother, Senga, is definitely one of my favourite characters. She is funny, eccentric, and very caring. Senga is ready to give Angela the help and advice she needs, even if it isn't what she wants to hear. She is also a medium for pets, and keen to let the world know that she is still young at heart. Senga is a crucial centre of Angela's life, and of the novel. There are things about Senga that the reader understands, unforunately, far sooner than Angela does. Even in some of the darker moments of the novel, Senga offers light relief and comfort to the reader.

Talk of the Toun is not an easy-going novel. There are moments that made me smile and laugh, but many of the scenes are uncomfortable, especially when an adult reader can recognise the mistakes that teenage Angela has been making. MacKinven's characters are authentic and effortlessly drawn. Talk of the Toun is a novel that is upfront and unabashed in its honesty, genuine in its truths as a coming of age story.

ThunderPoint Publishing,2015;
272 pages.