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Kieron Smith, Boy

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I had cousins at sea. One was in the Cadets. I was wanting to join. My maw did not want me to but my da said I could if I wanted, it was a good life and ye saved yer money, except if ye were daft and done silly things. He said it to me. I would just have to grow up first. James Kelman’s triumph in Kieron Smith, boy is to bring us completely inside the head of a child and remind us what strange and beautiful things happen in there. Here is the story of a boyhood in a large industrial city during a time of great social change. Kieron grows from age five to early adolescence amid the general trauma of everyday life—the death of a beloved grandparent, the move to a new home. A whole world is brilliantly sectarian football matches; ferryboats on the river; the unfairness of being a younger brother; climbing drainpipes, trees, and roofs; dogs, cats, sex, and ghosts. This is a powerful, often hilarious, startlingly direct evocation of childhood.

422 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2008

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About the author

James Kelman

87 books242 followers
Kelman says:

My own background is as normal or abnormal as anyone else's. Born and bred in Govan and Drumchapel, inner city tenement to the housing scheme homeland on the outer reaches of the city. Four brothers, my mother a full time parent, my father in the picture framemaking and gilding trade, trying to operate a one man business and I left school at 15 etc. etc. (...) For one reason or another, by the age of 21/22 I decided to write stories. The stories I wanted to write would derive from my own background, my own socio-cultural experience. I wanted to write as one of my own people, I wanted to write and remain a member of my own community.

During the 1970s he published a first collection of short stories. He became involved in Philip Hobsbaum's creative writing group in Glasgow along with Tom Leonard, Alasdair Gray and Liz Lochhead, and his short stories began to appear in magazines. These stories introduced a distinctive style, expressing first person internal monologues in a pared-down prose utilising Glaswegian speech patterns, though avoiding for the most part the quasi-phonetic rendition of Tom Leonard. Kelman's developing style has been influential on the succeeding generation of Scottish novelists, including Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner and Janice Galloway. In 1998, Kelman received the Stakis Prize for "Scottish Writer of the Year" for his collection of short stories 'The Good Times.'

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5 stars
73 (24%)
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94 (31%)
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72 (24%)
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45 (15%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 49 reviews
Profile Image for Sean Wilson.
192 reviews
June 14, 2018
George Orwell once said of Henry Miller's books, ‘He knows all about me,’ you feel; ‘he wrote this specially for me’ . The exact same can be said for James Kelman. Boyhood has never been written so realistically and evocatively. Kieron Smith, Boy is an outstanding novel of a young boy's upbringing in urban sectarian Glasgow that just brims with life on every page.
Profile Image for Becky.
406 reviews19 followers
September 10, 2012
My word. I got really, really sick of this book. I spent about 6 years of my life living in Scotland, and I love the place. What I grew to hate was people using the accent as some kind of substitute for real creativity. The music scene in Edinburgh and Glasgow is full of wonderful, talented musicians. It's also full of bands that sing in the most overwrought Scottish accents ever to mask their complete lack of creative spark. Kelman isn't that bad in this book. But the dialect grows old pretty quickly, it feels a little contrived. The whole tale is a rambling memoir of childhood, of the strange importance taken on by having the right school blazer, a employed father and your religious affiliations. It's pretty fun at the beginning. But the whole thing is just way, way too long. By the fourth time Kieron's mused about how to deal with the mongrel dog from Close number 4 and climbing up the ronepipe you're just about ready to cuff him round the ears and tell him to grow up.

So it's alright...but it needed a way better editor. Half the length would probably have equalled double the joy. Because nothing really happening for over 400 pages is really too slow.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
September 1, 2010
What goes on inside the mind of a boy from the time he is 5 until 13 years old? It could be beautiful, dark, mischievous, hopeful, scary, innocent, imaginative, indifferent, angry, loving, envious, and a lot of other emotions and thoughts.

James Kelman (born 1946) wrote Kieron Smith, boy (published 2008) 14 years after winning the 1994 Booker Prize for How Late It Was, How Late that became controversial when one of the judges said that Kelman's book was a disgrace upon hearing that it won the award. After reading this 422-page book, I have no doubt that Kelman has proven his brilliance and should be given due respect for having written a book as beautiful as this.

What makes this novel a joy to read is that it is told in first person narrative by a child, Kieron "Smiddy" Smith, from his tender innocent 5th year until that time that he is at the brink of young adulthood. That narrator lives in Glasgow, Scotland and uses Glaswegian speech patterns with words like ye (you), yer (your), maw (mother), da (father), fag (cigarette), lassie (girl), wean (child), wee small, Pape (Catholic), cannay (cannot), isnay (is not), etc. At first, it was like reading Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange with its own set of words but Kelman was able to gradually phase in those words mostly in the first chapter. As the boy is also forbidden to swear by her maw, all the vulgar and curse words are represented mostly by stars except the first and last letters. I just don't know how to type *sigh* those stars here in Goodreads. Oh, there are also words that I could not figure out being not to familiar with Glaswegian speech.

To answer my question above, these are the things that go on inside the mind of a boy from 5-13: family members (Oh, I did not care about them except my Granda), runaway (Oh, I go to a place where nobody knows about me), money and things that it can by (Oh, when I have a job and a money of my own, I will buy a denim jacket), sports (Oh, I want to play but I have a job so I cannot join the tryout), ghosts (Maw, maw, maw, ghost ghost) and my favorite: sex (Please, Sandra, please is Kieron's pickup line for a girl to agree to have sex with him).

Innocent without going overboard. Think of Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes sans the unbelievable dirt-poor life in Ireland. This oozes with sincerity and truth. It is like being a child again and having a Scottish boy pal like Kieron Smith.

Profile Image for Ade Bailey.
298 reviews175 followers
February 12, 2010
This is a narrative told by Kieron Smith growing up to the age of 13. It is like a series of short episodes, and I found I read it slowly. But there is a sustained series of threads, implicit and understated, that come together perfectly in the last 20 pages or so. The last three pages almost touch on the vertigo that is just hinted at beneath our hold on reality. Climbing is a key motif, a liberation and a danger, a precarious skill that develops. More than anything I would say it is a great pleasure to read.

I'd draw attention to the brilliant handling of powerful feelings - the sexual, the anxiety of status and most poignantly the experience of loss which feeds into a sad but fully realised sense of love. It's interesting too that in this young outline of the man to come are the confusions and fears over Fate, unseen contingencies - and a severe, omniscient God, the latter not so much imbued in the young Kieron by the bible classes and lessons he becomes so skilled at avoiding, but in the culture itself.

Kelman's understanding and exposition of the unfolding of language and boundaries, the inner and outer, the growth through social and attainment of individual power - in other words, culture - is exquisitively sharp. He does not need narrative tricks or flags of convenience: indeed, he often leaves you hanging denied of conventional 'closure'.

Stand back and be amazed. This is an utterly charming read, delicate and lovely. Anyone new to Kelman or a bit wary, start here and work backwards. Please.
Profile Image for Elizabeth (Alaska).
1,318 reviews438 followers
December 7, 2016
In the old place the river was not far from our street. There was a park and all different things in between. The park had a great pond with paddleboats and people sailed model yachts. Ye caught fish in it too. Ye caught them with poles that had wee nets tied at the end. But most people did not have these. Ye just caught them with yer hands. Ye laid down on yer front close into the edge on the ground. Here it sloped sharp into the water, so ye did not go too close. Just yer shoulders reached that bit where the slope started. Ye rolled up yer sleeves and put yer hands together and let them go down it. Just slow, then touching the water and yer hands going in. If ye went too fast, ye went right in up yer arms over yer shoulders. Ye only went a wee bit, a wee bit, a wee bit till yer hands were down as far.
I was captivated from this beginning. The prose lets you hear the Scot accent without so much written dialect to interfere with understanding. And then, of course, there is this boy, this wonderful little boy, this wee boy. I did not know my husband as a boy, but this lying on "yer front close to the edge" is who he was. I read this passage to him and he said "of course." He was a tree climber too, just like Kieron. I had daughters, thankfully, because I always said I wouldn't know what to do with boys - certainly not one like Kieron.

Though he was working class, I think nearly all of us can identify with Kieron. He was the younger son and "it wasn't fair" that Matt, his older brother, got things, got to do things, that Kieron did not. "It wasn't fair" that he got punished for things that were "no my fault." He was going to run away. Oh, what kid hasn't said "I'm going to run away."

There isn't really much story here. Kieron ages in these 400 pages, from (I'm guessing) about 9 to about 12. His life is sketched in front of us, a life that was tougher than most of us have to face. One of the criticisms of this is the amount of dirty language. There is a lot of it. Boys on the rough side of town know more than we want them to know, and less at the same time. I loved this book - until about the last 10 pages. I'm not sure how Kelman could have written a better ending, but I wanted one. Still, it was 5 stars all along and I'm not going to cut one off for 10 pages.

Profile Image for George.
2,309 reviews
July 30, 2020
3.5 stars. An interesting, memorable, memoir like, plotless novel about a young boy, Kieron Smith, set in Glasgow, Scotland during the 1950s. It’s in the first person and we learn about Kieron’s life from the age of 5 to 13. He lives with his older brother Matt, his mother and father in an inner city tenement apartment. Kieron’s grandparents live very close by. He sees his grandparents every day but some years later when his father changes jobs and the family moves to an apartment of the outskirts of Glasgow, Kieron sees his grandparents infrequently.
Ordinary life from a young boy’s perspective covers issues like his relationships to his parents, grandparents, brother, school friends and teachers. Kieron comments on his daily life, including playing sport, climbing trees and walls, working as a milk deliverer for pocket money, going to the library, sharing a room with his brother, preparing the nine o’clock evening snack, having a bicycle, visiting friends and his grandparents. I found the novel a little dull in places, but it certainly made me reflect on my childhood. The book is interesting as it details the life of young boys from poor Glaswegian families during the 1950s. A very worthwhile read.

Readers new to Kelman should begin with the memorable ‘The Busconductor Hines’ or the harder to read (as in a Glaswegian dialect), but equally as rewarding, ‘How Late It Was, How Late’ (1994 Booker Prize Winner).

Profile Image for Margie Taylor.
Author 7 books17 followers
May 20, 2019
I have come late to James Kelman and have a lot of catching up to do. While he was winning the Booker Prize (How Late it Was, How Late, 1994), and being castigated for it, I was working on my own first novel and reading authors on this side of the Atlantic: Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient); Carol Shields (The Stone Diaries); Margaret Atwood (Alias Grace); Alice Munro (Open Secrets). Oh, and Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, still one of the best books on writing to appear in the last 20 years. (Stephen King's On Writing is a close second but, to me, still a second.)

I did read Irvine Welsh and discovered Ian Rankin through the Inspector Rebus series on ITV, but somehow missed the Glasgow novelist who's been compared to James Joyce and Samuel Becket, and whose work divides the critics like a sharp knife through butter. One of the Booker judges denounced How Late it Was as unreadable "crap" and said the awarding of the prize to Kelman was "a disgrace". The Times called it "literary vandalism"; Kingsley Amis dismissed it as "one of the last and least of the big-fuck novels".

The London Review of Books, however, has praised him as "a radical Modernist writer of exceptional brilliance". And the New Zealand-born Scottish writer Kirsty Gunn has called him "the greatest British writer of our time". It's the profanity, among other things, that gets up the noses of certain people, which may be why Kelman, in Kieron Smith, boy, has chosen to use asterisks in place of letters. He sprinkles them throughout the narrative in a kind of thumb-nosing, up-yours manner, giving us c**k and f**k and c**t and f*****g. Some of these, like w*****g and t****r, need a bit of puzzling out, but by the last few chapters Kelman drops the niceties and we get the words in full.

Now there, I've misled you. There are no chapters in Kieron Smith, boy. There's no plot, either, to speak of. Just the somewhat incoherent ramblings of a young boy from a rough working-class district of Glasgow. Growing up, I think, in the 1950s, but it could be earlier. There are no dates, and few references to the outside world although we learn that his family moves from their tenement flat to one of the new housing schemes built on the outskirts of the city after the Second World War.

Five years old when the story begins, Kieron is the youngest in a family of four. His father's in the merchant navy, and his older brother, Matt, wants nothing to do with him. Like most younger children, Kieron believes that life isn't fair. His questions go unanswered, his natural curiosity is discouraged. At home, his brother is favoured with a proper desk and the window side of the bedroom while Kieron gets nothing but blame and "doings" from his da (an all-encompassing term for anything from a slap on the bum to a full-on beating). To be fair, Matt pays attention in school and studies hard to get ahead, while Kieron skips out to visit his grannie or take a ferry up the Clyde. His teachers complain that he doesn't concentrate in class, and he's certainly no stranger to the strap. (Side note: the sheer brutality of some of his instructors brought back memories of more than one elementary school teacher who ruled the classroom by humiliating his students. Are you listening, Mr. Dale?)

Kieron's name is a source of angst to some extent. He worries that it's a Catholic name, and he's been brought up to hate "Papes". As a "Proddy" he has to beware of wandering into Catholic territory, an especial problem in that he lives not far from the Rangers football stadium. (In sectarian Glasgow, Rangers F.C. is a Protestant club while Celtic is Catholic.) When Celtic fans come to see their team play, the rivalry is played out on the field and off. Parts of the neighbourhood are either Catholic or Protestant; turning up in the wrong place is asking for trouble.

While Kieron has all the prejudices of his class there is much in him to admire. He loves his grandparents, especially his grandad, who was a champion boxer when he was young and teaches him how to defend himself without stooping to "dirty" fighting. He pals around with Podgie and Mitch, who are relatively bad apples, but he has a strong moral compass. He's not a bully, is kind to animals, and is pretty fearless, standing up for himself against bigger boys, and climbing everything in sight. When neighbouring women get locked out of their apartments, it's Kieron who shinnies up the ronepipe (roof gutter) and gets through the upstairs window.

Language is at the heart of the narrative; Kieron's mother, in particular, has bought into the idea that speaking well means speaking like an English person, not a Scot. Kieron self-censors (hence the asterisks) because he's been brought up to believe that certain words are inherently bad. Speaking like a Glaswegian is bad; he must learn to speak properly, which means using what we used to call "the King's English". His mother demands it; she remonstrates with her husband, who uses mild profanity at every turn, and encourages her sons to speak nicely. The teachers at school reinforce it: "It was say yes and not aye, down and not doon, am not and no um nay, ye were just to speak nice."

Kelman, who considers Scotland to be an occupied nation, has written reams on the cultural oppression, or suppression, of language. At the Booker awards dinner, a black-tie affair which he attended in a business suit and open neck shirt, he gave a spirited defence of his use of the vernacular: “My culture and my language have the right to exist, and no one has the authority to dismiss that. . . . A fine line can exist between élitism and racism. On matters concerning language and culture, the distance can sometimes cease to exist altogether.”

The characters in Kieron Smith, boy are limited - they have limited opportunities, limited futures. But the dreams of a child are not limited; without any of the trappings of fancy phrasing, Kieron's dreams soar beyond the street litter, the dead-end jobs, and the crumbling tenements into the stratosphere of possibility. By the time we leave him, teetering on the verge of adolescence, we hope for the best for this boy, who imagines himself climbing yet another ronepipe, losing his grip, and being rescued by the ghost of his grandfather:

"So yer granda would be there, his spirit would come to yer rescue, maybe a breath of wind or a hard blowing wind, to stop ye hitting the ground heid first, ye would land one foot at a time, nice and soft, or else in a big pile of sacks and just get up and walk away. Oh that was lucky, and it would be, except if it was him, yer granda".
Profile Image for Alan.
Author 11 books166 followers
July 26, 2010
This book is worth five stars, but the way I read it made it, for me, more a four star one. That's because i read much of it in twenty minute commutes, and the odd kid-battered hour at home. It is the kind of book you need to give space and time to, to give in to, it follows a boy's late childhood and early adolescence in Glasgow in the fifties/sixties (I think, judging by the fashions, there's little else to go by). The writing follows Keiron's thought processes which can seem a little tedious with its repititions and doubling backs, and an incredibly narrow perspective on which to hang 420 pages. Some have called this Kelman's most accesible book to date and I can see why because everyone can relate to the child's p.o.v. and the indignities and triumphs he suffers/enjoys. However I think at first I felt I missed the adult's wider frame of reference in books like 'How Late it Was, How Late'. That was until Good Friday. The kids were out, it was pissing down so I couldn't mow the lawn, and I avoided other tasks by ignoring them and I spent three and a half hours with this book and it was bliss, I finally got inside it, and was Keiron seeing everything through his eyes. That was me, in reading bliss, on the sofa. Kelman is superb, his rigour and integrity paying off in spades. I felt the lad's stomach ache when he fears his 'n*de book' has been discovered, the elation of climbing to the tops of trees, higher than anyone else has ever climbed and feeling the tree sway with his weight, the fitting into shifting heirarchies of mates and bullies at school. The language is perfect - strange reading a Kelman where swear words are asterisked out: f**k, c**t, but even words like b*m, and what is h**e? (Oh did ye get yer h**e?). The lad is restricted by his mother who wants to be posh, and his older brother who is studying for exams at the posh school, the brothers share a room and he's not allowed to go in his brother's half. All the tiny injustices are beautifully played out inside Keiron's head. Although I didn't have the Catholic/Protestant problem much of it was similar to my childhood (the climbing/ passed to the front in big football games/ school lore/ friendships and bullying/ nude books/ first jobs and vicious dogs/ sex, the first stirring of - w*nking. I was more used to girls, however, having sisters who brought friends home. It was painfully, exquisitely accurate. Not a word wrong. Keiron gradually does let swear words in (only right towards the end) and this shows him becoming independent (a little). Kelman is a great writer, and one day I will re-read this and give it five stars.

Here's a passage from after his granda's death where you can see what I mean. I was just going to give the first para below, as it's a beautiful and succinct piece of writing, but that wouldn't be accurate, this book is definitely not about succinctness (?), but about how the ragged world is explained and defined by a growing boy's mind.

I thought about my granda, how God took him and not old people ye saw even if it was grannie Petrie Smith and ones that were sick. Ye saw an old person and if they were at the train station or walking with a walking stick and they were very old, they were walking and my granda was not, he was just dead or what, passed onto the other side. Auntie may said that. Oh dad has passed onto the other side.

Oh it is just Fate, God wills it. Matt said it was not our fault, God willed it for granda. It was not fair but Fate gave him it. Fate deals a blow to ye. If God wills it. It will be done as it is in Heaven. So then it happens. The same with Kings and Queens in history, they had their Fate, and the Princes and Princesses if they were rightful Heirs to the throne, and locked up in dungeons or turrets and then dying there, maybe if they went mad or starved to death, the poor little Prince and Princess, it was their Fate, even if they were on the rack, and getting put to death in the Tower of London, it was God willed it, so if it was Mary Queen of Scots and the English took her. The Queen of England wanted to to get her and put her out the way because of her throne and if God willed it she was a Protestant and Mary Queen of Scots was not, she was a RC. And there was nothing ye could do, even if the people loved her it was just how the Queen's army was all Redcoats, she had the best ones and they would beat anybody in the world, the whole world, it was the English Army and the Navy, they had the best ones and if countries were wanting to fight them if it was Spain and trying to take our lands, if it was England and all our treasures, the Spanish were sending all their Navy to fight us and that was England and ye saw the Spaniards and they were all high-faluting with their wee lace handkerchiefs, Oooohh, ooooohhh, that was how they spoke, anybody could beat them, and the men kept wee hankies up their sleeves for their noses and if they were fencing they had the sword in one hand and then the hankie in the other just if they were nancyboy poofs that was what it was like, if they thought they could just walk in and take over and plunder, we would show them. England would not bow to them and never surrender, if anybody thought they would, never until the last drop of blood if it was just their Queen or the young Prince they would show them, just a wee country but an island nation, that was England, so ye got Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake then it was Churchill and they were the best Navy. England had the best Navy the world had ever seen.

11 reviews
January 4, 2021
Those who critique the length of this novel, quite clearly, do not understand what this book has to offer. The repetition is exactly how the mind of a young lad works; the dialect this is written in gives a true sense of the character —unfiltered, unpolished; genuine. I felt transported into the mind of a wee loon. Kelman's writing, if you immerse yourself in it, is as dense as poetry, but just as beautiful.
Profile Image for Simon Wood.
215 reviews128 followers
September 10, 2013

It's not often I agree with the blurb on a books dust jacket, but after reading James Kelmans "Kieron Smith, Boy" I feel that I can enthusiastically endorse the claims made that he is "the greatest British novelist of our times". The hero of the book is one Kieron Smith, younger son of a family who live in the Glasgow (presumably) of the 1950's. It charts his experiences, conflicts and thoughts as related by him, from the age when he is in the middle years of primary school to his early years at secondary.

This is an extraordinary performance on Kelmans behalf; the reader is thrust into the scuffed shoes of Kieron and will find it difficult to take them off, at least voluntarily. The book is utterly absorbing, and as someone who was once a boy himself, though an east coaster rather than a west coaster, and who grew up a few decades later, I found myself constantly back in my own past as well as transfixed by Kierons story. The re-creation of the young boys mentality that Kelman has put into writing is an awesome artistic achievement.

The book is at times melancholy, such as when Kierons granda is enduring his last hospital bound illness, but can often be hilarious such as when Kierons ruminates on religion, principally the differences between "Papes and Proddies", a running theme in his mind, and realistically so given the location of his childhood. The account of life in inner city Glasgow before moving to an out of town scheme, at school, in the tenement flat, at his gran and grandas, his conflicts with his older brother and parents, and those within Kierons head never once struck this reader as anything less than completely real.

Non-Glaswegian readers will be grateful to Kierons mammy, whose constant needling of Kierons pronunciation and nagging in the cause of "proper" English are reflected in Kierons narrative voice. Even swear words are asterisked out, at least until Kieron is away to secondary school.

A short review cant do justice to such a substantial, compulsively and compelling work of fiction. I had thought that Roddy Doyles "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha" was the last word in fiction from the point of view of a child, but Kelman has excelled beyond even that high standard in this marvellous novel. Well recommended.
Profile Image for Claire.
6 reviews7 followers
August 12, 2008
James Kelman has an unmistakable writer's voice that I find exhilarating and troubling to read and very very 'skarrish.' Having read How Late it was, How Late and You have to be Careful in the land of the free, I was ready for some cursing and some paranoia; I thought I had this Kelman guy figured out.

But then I meet Kieron Smith, Boy. And I see Scotland and Kelman anew, for the narrator is but a wean, a five year old boy, and we grow up together, Kieron and I, and yes, the writing is exhilarating and troubling and skarrish and paranoiac, but also, earnest and touching and filled with the kinds of rushes that only come from being a small child and climbing the side of a building and the kinds of questions that come from having a 'pape's name' or wanting to join in on the football match that the RCs are having and the kinds of sorrows that come from having an older brother.

When I took this promo I heard it compared to Roddy Doyle and I think that's a bit - easy - because, yes, young boys coming of age - but Kelman's voice is still there. I won't forget this boy for a while.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,753 reviews7 followers
January 12, 2009
This was an extraordinary book..as the dustjacket says, "A masterpiece". This book is Kieron's diary, from being just a "wee lad" through early adolescence in Glasgow probably during the 1950's. At first the book seems off putting because of the language, short choppy sentences, and repetition. Through his entries we learn how little money there is, how much is parents favor his older brother, how endeared he is to his grandparents. Kieron's family moves in the story, and the adjustment is painful. His strengths prevail as each day unfolds, he literally climbs to surprising heights. Kieron is not impressed by the posh people he finds in his life, and seeks out mates who will support him and back him in the places where he wants to be. Truly, the reader enters Kieron's consciousness through this book.
14 reviews9 followers
April 24, 2009
Kelman is the Godfather. The only "British" writer nominated for the Man International Book Prize this year. Deserving of the Nobel, if prizes mean anything. Kieron Smith, boy is a feat that few writers ever achieve. The summit where Kelman works, has only a few other tents pitched. Dostoevsky, Dickens, Camus, a few more. Kieron Smith, boy is a deep immersion, a profound masterpiece.
1 review
March 22, 2021
“Kieron Smith, Boy” is a first-person account of a young working-class boy growing up in Glasgow during the mid-20th century.
There is no obvious plot or story ark, other than that of a young, unremarkable boy’s journey through childhood. The novel is an account of his everyday thoughts and experiences, most of which could, like Kieron himself, be described as completely unremarkable.
The reader sees the world through the young narrator’s eyes, but we have the advantage of the outsider and can understand much more of what Kieron sees than he does himself.
His father is a racist and a bigot who spends most of his days hiding behind the pages of a newspaper. He is an unskilled labourer who retires from the Navy. His return to civilian life leaves him, like most working-class men at the time, without a sense of value or importance, something he tries to remedy by quitting his job in the factory, only to become idle and even less significant than he was before.
Kieron’s mother is desperate for her children to transcend their working-class roots and believes that the way they speak is paramount to their perceived success. Her obsession with speaking “proper English” is a central theme of the novel, as Kelman has created an authentic voice by avoiding the traditions of written language. Kieron cannot talk the way that his mother wants him to but does for periods of the novel strive to do so, something that often leaves him alienated from his friends.
His brother, Matt, goes to a good school and spends much of his time reading and studying. He is well-respected at school and it is his reputation that opens the door for Kieron himself to attend, despite being out of place when he gets there. It is hard to know how much of what we learn about Matt is accurate, as the jealous eyes of Kieron are likely to distort that reality. However, given Matt’s success at school and his ability to fit in and to avoid some of the trouble that Kieron finds himself in there would appear to be a degree of truth in what we learn about Matt.
Matt is the family’s way out of entrenched poverty. He has the opportunity to cast aside the blue collar and live a life that is less strenuous and more meaningful. A key moment in the novel is when Matt confronts his father’s bigotry and racism head on. He asks him who he would rather see win a boxing match: a “darkie” or a “Catholic”, a question that his father is unable to answer, and one that forces the older man to face his own prejudices. Matt uses his education to beat his father, something his father did literally to both boys as they grew up.
This is a wonderful exploration of the thoughts and feelings of a young boy and as the novel progresses so too do those thoughts, feelings and his reflections of them. As Kieron grows so do his thoughts and by the end of the novel his reflections are no longer dominated by climbing and football but are instead occupied by girls, religion and money.
One moment in particular sums up “Kieron Smith, Boy” better than I could myself. Half-way through the novel Kieron has carved out an identity for himself as excellent climber. The best fighter and school bully goads Keiron into climbing onto the school roof, a task that is both difficult and dangerous. In any other novel Kieron would face up to that bully by climbing onto the roof. Whether he did so unscathed would be what would set most novels apart. In Kelman’s novel, despite a day of pestering, Kieron does not climb onto the roof and as that chapter ends the moment is never mentioned again.
In “Kieron Smith, Boy” Kelman has strived for authenticity and to do so he had to cast aside certain conventions of the novel. For this reason much of what the reader might expect to happen does not. There is no obvious plot, but like real life there are stories to be found everywhere through the interactions between the characters.
This novel won’t be for everyone but if you enjoy writing that is character driven, that worries less about plot and more about depictions of real life and if you want to know what life was like for young working-class boys growing up in Glasgow in the mid-20th century then you will not find a better novel than this.

266 reviews3 followers
March 17, 2021
Kieron Smith provides an account of his life as a young boy (pre-teens) living in Glasgow. From a somewhat deprived family, with a narrow minded father and a mother who dreams of better for her sons earning her the label 'snob', and an older brother growing increasingly distant as he tries to study his way out of poverty, Kieron is very much his own person. He has his own standards of right and wrong which may not always coincide with what is acceptable, and the basis of his judgement of others often comes down to whether or not they are a good fighter and prove loyal to their pals.

Kieron speaks with the voice of an intelligent but naive young boy, and he speaks not in standard English; his oft repeated expressions some will find quaint and endearing, others may find irritating. He has much to say yet in the end it amounts to very little, and he often repeats himself. He is preoccupied with his fighting abilities, his prowess as a climber and the unfairness of life as he sees it.

The account has no real beginning or end, it simply is, and over the course of its many pages there are no significant happenings, it is just a coverage of the life of a young boy. After my first attempt at reading I put the book down after about 80 pages finding little to hold me, but picking it up again some months later I began to be drawn too Kieron Smith, the boy that is, and it was that along with the way he expresses himself that kept me going to the end, for there was enough there to care about; but there was little else other than the picture Kelman draws of life in the past in deprived areas of Glasgow.
Profile Image for Lisa Hudson.
54 reviews2 followers
December 29, 2017
I'm not sure where to begin. The premise of the book was interesting -- the mind's eye of a boy as he grows/experiences/matures from about age 5 to age 13, in an industrial town in Scotland. In between, though, was just a cascade of rambling, repetitive thoughts leading to what, I'm still not sure. The relationship with his grandfather is supposed to have been some defining relationship, but you never really get to know his "granda," as he's mentioned somewhat infrequently, and whatever bond they are alleged to share is barely detectable. It's not until the very last pages of book that Kieron begins to dwell on his grandfather's death and, for the first time, seems to genuinely miss him, but by then it's too late to really care. I skimmed the last 30 pages. Kieron's relationship with his neighborhood friends is unremarkable, but there certainly is a fair share of reference to masturbation, including several instances of sexual assault by a fellow male classmate. Thanks, but no thanks. Characters were flat, plot was dull, wouldn't recommend.
Profile Image for Amerynth.
814 reviews24 followers
September 9, 2019
I admire what James Kelman was trying to do here with his novel "Kieron Smith, Boy" but ultimately I didn't feel it was successful. The story focuses on Kieron Smith and his inner thoughts as he wends his way through his preteen years, but I found his inner thoughts to be really dull.

This was a real struggle to get through it.
Profile Image for Shirley Payne.
83 reviews
December 25, 2017
While the book gets totally into the head of a boy, much is just repetitive. I made my way thru the book, not sure it was worth it.
Profile Image for Dullah Mirza.
12 reviews
September 19, 2022
The plot division in reaching a climax is full of risks and this novel transcends everything smoothly. Shiny.
Profile Image for Michael.
444 reviews21 followers
February 6, 2016
There are not many books out there with child narrators. It is always a risky thing for a writer to do, for the pitfalls are numerous: the writing is not convincingly childlike, the narrator can become precocious, the style annoying; not to mention the problem that it is difficult to write on certain themes from the limited perspective of a child.

In Kieron Smith, boy, James Kelman surmounts all of these problems. Kieron is clumsy, rough, a younger brother, often overlooked, often faced with more limitations than limitless horizons. Growing up in 1950s rural Scotland, his days are filled with playing in the parks and by the rivers, finding “lucks” in the local junkyard, fighting with other boys, and visiting his loving grandparents. His life in the world is vigorous, dangerous, and appealing.

Stepping indoors, however, as the boy’s horizon shrinks to the walls of his top-story apartment, so too does the scope and horizon of his life. Within his family Kieron becomes the least priority, often overshadowed by his older brother Matt, who receives all the attention and affection of his parents. One wonders how much of this is accurately observed, and how much of it is --as should be expected -- childlike exaggeration. Regardless, though, it is clear that as Kieron grows up, and moves to a new housing development, his opportunities and happiness continually shrink.

Despite this realism, Kieron’s outlook on the challenges of life is refreshingly undaunted. Life’s vagaries will inspire in the boy a railing against unfairness of it all, which tends to be repetitive. But after falling down, Kieron unfailingly gets up and moves on to the next distraction. New schoolmates (not all of them the nicest of friends), neighborhood exploration, games of soccer, and the challenges posed to his climbing abilities by trees and buildings are the niches in which Kieron flourishes despite the unsympathetic eye by which the world often views him.

Perhaps the best thing about Kelman’s novel is its style. The writer and political activist has surmounted with astonishing grace and effortlessness all of the dangers of writing from the perspective of children, and while the prose can tend toward repetitiveness and nonsensical grammar (traits which, given the mood, premise, and character of the story, I view more as strengths than weaknesses), Kelman has established a style which is utterly convincing as a child’s worldview and thought process. The words “just” and “if” are constantly invoked, and run-on sentences abound. From an editor’s perspective, this novel is a nightmare.

But when one surrenders one’s critical mind to the flow of the story, it works surprisingly well. How else than this could a child talk, think, and reason? It is innocent, but not too innocent; worldly, but ignorantly so, as is appropriate. Reading Kieron Smith, one remembers why it was that we wished to grow up so quickly when we were young. One remembers vividly the yearning, the endlessness of days, the surpassing tragedy of a parent forbidding us from doing something or a move from a familiar place to a new school or neighborhood. The fear of approaching the opposite sex for the first time.

Kieron is faced with a gamut of limitations, tragedies, and failed opportunities. He is shy, but bold. Good, but rebellious. Idealistic, yet flawed. His story is one that thrives in the atmosphere of its place and the specificity of its time; yet it is a story of childhood and its changes, challenges, and choices that will seem universal to the Western reader.
Profile Image for Rob.
69 reviews14 followers
March 29, 2011
The cover of Kieron Smith, Boy comes pasted with superlatives, including Irvine Welsh’s assertion that it’s “a masterpiece.” Personally, I’m not convinced, though it is very clearly an exceptional feat of writing. Kelman’s novel is essentially a young boy’s stream of consciousness, focussing on his relationships, insecurities and obsessions in forensic yet free-wheeling fashion. The prose sounds – to these older, non-Glaswegian ears/eyes – authentic: Kieron’s naïve viewpoint is portrayed believably, his tempestuous relationship with his brother is returned to time and time again, ruminations on God are both devout and bewildering. It also develops as the boy ages: the care-free little boy who censors his own thoughts gradually becomes angrier, swearier and less inclined to please his family.

However it’s this authenticity which was, for me, a bit of a stumbling block. The prose inevitably tends to repetition, as Kieron faces the same obstacles and aggravations time and time again. It can also be hard to read – the childlike phrasing and use of dialect mean that acclimatisation can take some time; this is a book designed for immersion rather than a quick read on a train.

Perhaps most fundamentally, the book lacks any real plot. Again, this probably ticks the authenticity box: most young boys’ lives won’t have a narrative so Kelman hasn’t imposed one. There are key themes to which he returns: family relationships, friends, religion, the love of his grandfather; there are also underlying threads such as poverty and sectarian violence which inform much of what goes on. But in reality, you could stop reading this book halfway through and feel just as satisfied as if you had read the whole thing.

Ultimately, this seems more of an authorial exercise than a truly involving novel, which is a bit of a shame.
Profile Image for SillySuzy.
423 reviews8 followers
September 29, 2010
In itself this is a wonderful story as it really gives you an insight into the mind of a 10 to 13 year old boy. It does take a while to get into the story, though, because the entire story is written in the spoken language of a 10 to 13-year-old who is Scottish into the bargain, which doesnot always make for easy reading. There is also a lot of repetition when Kieron wants to stress his point. There isnot much of a plot. Much more, this novel is a long sequence of short stories which peters out in the end. The frustrations Kieron goes through are all too recognizable (even for a girl) and there is definitely development of character. In the beginning Kieron is pretty docile, trying to please his parents by doing the things that are expected of him and he is dead set against swearing, but at the end he swears as much as the other boys and starts to revolt against his parents. So, in conclusion I would say it is a great story, but too long and I would have liked to see more of a plot.
Profile Image for Andrea.
245 reviews10 followers
September 1, 2013
I don't know if it's the language or the cut out swear words or just that this was a pointless book but I'm not a fan. Starting out on this one was slow because of the language. I finally gave up on trying to understand each word and just went with reading when I came into clumps of swear words/bad words that are cut out so I spent my time trying to figure that out, realizing that Scottish swear words are going to be different from American so then I had to give up on that. Then I realize that I have read 25 sections about climbing, 17 sections about fighting, 15 about the prejudices among Catholics and Protestants, and none of it really having any meaning or substance to it. Finally I finished this one and flat out felt like I just wasted my weekend by reading a really pointless book. Sigh.
August 24, 2015
This book is quite boring it took me about two months to finish it and I did not like it at all. This book was basically about Kieron’s everyday life, what he did at school, after school, with his grandparents, with his own family which he hated at times, and the many adventures he had with his pals. Perhaps the only interesting part of the book was when his grandfather died and he thought it would be scary to see his grandpa’s spirit elsewhere, and the highlight of the whole book takes part in these lines; “ So yer granda would be there, his spirit would come to yer rescue, maybe a breath of wind or a hard blowing wind, to stop ye hitting the ground heid first, ye would land one foot at a time, nice and soft, or else in a big pile of sacks and just get up and walk away, Oh that was lucky, and it would be except if it was him, yer granda” (pg.422.)
Profile Image for Ian Mapp.
1,208 reviews38 followers
January 13, 2010
More accessible than the last Kelman book I read (How Late), this provides an insight into the mind and emotions of the eponymous 11 year old boy.

The writing does not rely on colloquialism as per the other book and this makes it so much easier to read.

The book shows the scrapes of a working class boy, brighter than average, as he grows up in the schemes, starts new schools, experiences jelously of his brother, starts getting interested in girls.

The problem for me is absolutely nothing happens in the book. It just progresses in its style with minor repititions but there is just no real story. Maybe thats the point.

Pleasant enough read but instantly forgetable. Despite the plaudits.
Profile Image for Marie.
70 reviews11 followers
March 20, 2009
I had a hard time initially with understanding linguistic differences (i.e., that 'greeting' meant 'crying') as well as getting used to the writing style (lots of repetition), but this book won me over. When Kelman wrote about things such as wanting a broken bicycle to be fixed, sharing a room with an older brother or figuring out how to climb up on top of walls and buildings, it made me remember what being a child was like. And the main character is wonderful.
Profile Image for Warwick.
842 reviews14.6k followers
December 20, 2012
Outstanding. One of the best through-the-eyes-of-a-child books I've ever read, right up there with Catcher in the Rye. For linguistic brilliance it can only be compared to those early chapters of Portrait of the Artist. There's not a lot of plot, but I just felt so attached to Kieron that I wanted to keep reading. It's moving and powerful and sweet and funny, and the narrative voice is pulled off almost flawlessly. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Curious Squid.
229 reviews1 follower
June 23, 2010
I don't know if it was because it was written in Scottish dialect or the endless run on sentences that kept repeating, or if it had more to do with the complete and utter lack of plot, but this was the most painful book I read in a long time.

I get that it was the thoughts of a 12-13 yr old boy, and maybe I just can't relate, but WOW I really did not enjoy this book.
53 reviews1 follower
March 3, 2011
Huge, almost stream of conscious novel that covers the late childhood/adolescence of a Glaswegian boy. Amazing internal structure keeps this book together. It captures the thought patterns of childhood, and also how as people grow and develop, they segue into different interests, friendships, and experiences.
1,301 reviews3 followers
May 21, 2014
Each chapter is through a different person's eyes. I enjoyed reading about these people who live in a small town in the Northeast that was once a supported by industrial mills. I don't think it had any great underlying message, it was just a good read. There is some violence, sexual situations and depression.
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