I got a little confused reading some of the dialogue in this book by this Scottish author. The use of dialect by Scottish authors has been a thorn in the side of the, by and large, English literatti, and anyone who lets their laziness to try and understand unfamiliar guttural sounds in written form, get in the way of a good story, or a great piece of literature. Anne Donovan has been slammed. Irving Welsh has been afforded some respect, but grudgingly. And as for James Kelman, well he got unprofessional treatment for his Booker Prize winning How late it was, how late, (written in very broad Glasgow dialect) from one of the judges, Rabbi Julia Neuberger.
Alasdair Gray has been known to write in the Glasgow dialect.
But, it wasn't a Glasgow dialect that caused me a little confusion here. It was dialogue along the lines of this:
"I have neva befoa taken moa than twelve pupils but of course Harriet is exceptional... My small numba of gels lets me enshaw nobody suffas or is bullied during what can be a very difficult and highly formatve few yias"
What is this strange dialect I am reading? Is it another example of the lazy working classes dropping consonants and misusing their vowels? The dialect of some inner city? No, it was Gray's brilliant interpretation and representation of the way the English upper classes speak.
This is a complex book, though not difficult. It is made up by a collection of women from across the social classes, but more so it is made into something you have to weave your way through more by the fact that it is a bricolage of some of Gray's previous works. As well as the main characters, there is a general breadth of characters, which has drawn grasping comparisons to The Canterbury Tales
As the title might suggest, it does have themes of a sexual nature, so be aware of this. There are also themes of power, which might be evidenced by the social class ideas, but not as blatant as you might expect. There is also something of a challenge to the normal stereotypes of gender here.
Gray doesn't use as much of his artwork and typography to tell the story as he has in other books - his writing does stand up on its own anyway, but the artwork and typography are 'added value'. I did miss this usual feature.
Gray isn't an easy read, though his themes are usually straightforward. This book is one of his easier ones and is worth a grab and read.