I am rating this about a 3.75. It's not the most comfortable book I've ever read, so I can't say I really "liked" it, but the characters are memorable, and I think this is a book I will still remember a year from now. My goal is to read several books each year from the Booker shortlist. This "year" I am selecting books from 1969 and from 2009 - not necessarily the winners, but books that interest me.
This one is by a Scottish author, and set in the small industrial town of Kilcaddie in the west of Scotland in the 1950s. The main character is Duncan "Dunky" Logan, 15, who drops out of school to work as a laborer on a farm. It is a coming-of-age story as he tries to define himself as a man, and shed the people and habits that he thinks of as childish and/or compromising his freedom as an adult. Ironically, his choices are creating a very bleak and narrow road for himself. It is a rather depressing look at the prospects for young men (and women) in that time and place. I also found it a somewhat disturbing commentary on the male psyche!
I did learn a LOT of Scottish slang. I had to keep a notebook as I read, going online to look up words and phrases - 4 pages worth! Many I could have guessed at the meaning, so this probably wasn't necessary for my understanding. It got tedious to stop each time, so I would save up a list, and then look them up later. A few to remember: messages = groceries, pieces = sandwiches, coup = a garbage dump, Ne'erday = New Year's Day. Among the more colorful: neds and hairies and tinks, tattie-howkers, argy-bargy, nicky tams, hab-jabs, and bawbee.
First paragraph: "It was still dark, that Monday in January, when the boy, Dunky Logan, and the man, Blackie McCann, came to feed and water the horses, quarter after seven on a cold Monday morning in January, damn near as chill as an Englishman's heart, said McCann, stamping his hobnail boots on the stable cobbles."
Favorite quote: "Willie wasn't as green as he was cabbage-looking."
And this from the last chapter sort of sums up the whole book: "If grown men could change so quickly how could you be sure of yourself? You wanted to be like other people but they did the dirty on you, one way or the other. You started off trying to be different, trying not to turn out like all the others. You ended up worse than them. You ended up knowing you were a disgrace, full of all the things you hated in other people."
Dunky wasn't a bad boy. But he desperately needed a good, male role model, and there weren't any.