Lost in space

Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine - - Front Page -

A messy struc­ture un­der­mines this imag­i­na­tive and some­times bril­liant Scot­tish novel.

All The Gal­ax­ies is a novel of in­ter­mit­tent bril­liance, fine scenes and emo­tional un­der­stand­ing. It is also, struc­turally, a mess, and writ­ten in dif­fer­ent reg­is­ters un­con­vinc­ingly yoked to­gether. It is set partly in a dystopian Glas­gow, partly in a dis­tant galaxy to which it seems the dead have trav­elled and where a young man, Roland, killed on a stu­dent march, is com­forted and guided in his quest for his lost mother by the Bor­der ter­rier who was the com­pan­ion of his boy­hood. This sounds, and in­deed is, whim­si­cal; it is also rather touch­ing.

In­de­pen­dence has been re­jected in a sec­ond Scot­tish ref­er­en­dum. The Holy­rood par­lia­ment has been closed. There fol­lowed an out­break of vi­o­lence, known as “The Hor­rors”. Now or­der has been re­stored. Greater Glas­gow is on the way to be­ing an au­thor­i­tar­ian city state, also a cor­rupt one; its leader is a fat drug-ad­dict, egged on or con­trolled by a sin­is­ter mys­tery man, Nor­loch, re­puted to have a past in which both crime and the Se­cu­rity Ser­vices have fea­tured.

Jack Fal­lon, Roland’s fa­ther, is the fea­tures editor of a fail­ing news­pa­per, the Mercury. It has re­cently been taken over by a Monaco-based com­pany. Its rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Troutvine, is a master of mean­ing­less man­age­ment-speak. (Miller, arts correspondent of the Herald, surely en­joyed writ­ing the gob­bledy­gook he puts into Troutvine’s mouth; it rings all too aw­fully au­then­tic.) The jour­nal­ists them­selves are mostly, most of the time, what it seems jour­nal­ists must be in Scot­tish fic­tion: foul-mouthed and drunken, but cling­ing, in some cases, to a bat­tered in­tegrity. I am sur­prised that Miller, who can write with such lively imag­i­na­tion, has been con­tent to re­cy­cle this stereo­type. One has read the same pub di­a­logue in too many Scot­tish crime nov­els, and is weary of it. It’s lazy writ­ing.

Fal­lon oc­ca­sion­ally breaks the bonds of cliché to speak with in­tel­li­gence and sin­cer­ity. There are flash­backs to his once lov­ing but failed mar­riage, some of the best scenes in the novel, though read­ers may find the chronol­ogy hard to fol­low.

More­over, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween him and Roland, with its mix­ture of love, ex­as­per­a­tion and mis­un­der­stand­ing on both sides, is well and truth­fully done.

Glas­gow is well done too. Miller is good on build­ings and their in­te­ri­ors, and the ur­ban land­scape; not sur­pris­ingly, since he is such a good art critic. Some may be ex­hil­a­rated by his vi­sion of a dystopian Scot­land, and even think it re­veals some­thing of the dark pas­sions sim­mer­ing be­low the ap­par­ently re­spectable sur­face of Scot­tish po­lit­i­cal life to­day.

But of course it’s an ex­er­cise in fan­tasy, rather than prophecy, and not an orig­i­nal one ei­ther – flesh-creep­ing stuff that leaves the flesh un­crept.

The truth is that the novel is more sat­is­fy­ing in parts than as a whole. In­deed it is never a co­her­ent whole. There are too many dif­fer­ent strands and it doesn’t hold to­gether.

There is no line, not even the kind of story-line which keeps you go­ing on read­ing even when cred­i­bil­ity fal­ters.

In­stead, sto­ries are picked up and dis­carded. Scenes of imag­i­na­tive in­ten­sity jos­tle with scenes of the ut­most ba­nal­ity. In­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters flit into the nar­ra­tive and then out into the murk.

It is as if there are two, three, even four nov­els here, which have been ar­bi­trar­ily bun­dled to­gether.

Miller is a writer of ev­i­dent and very con­sid­er­able tal­ent. But at present he is a fine scene-set­ter who ei­ther doesn’t

PHILIP MILLER: In­ter­galac­tic fan­tasy and Glas­gow noire make an un­easy mar­riage.

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