Under the influence: Addiction and literary politics in five Scottish contemporary novels

McKerrow, Joyce Janet (2002) Under the influence: Addiction and literary politics in five Scottish contemporary novels. MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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As Scotland begins a new era in its history after 300 years of being governed from Westminster, many contradictory effects on the cultural, historical, literary and economic life of the country have begun to be put into perspective. The focus of this thesis is the dystopic impulses in some key texts of contemporary urban Scottish literature since Alasdair Gray's Lanark was published in 1981. It argues that the defining moment in recent Scottish political and literary history was the failed 1979 Devolution Referendum and the devastating effects of eighteen years of Tory leadership on Scotland. Five chapters focus on works of urban fiction, mostly set in Glasgow and the West of Scotland: Alasdair Gray's 1982 Janine, James Kelman's How Late It Was, How Late, Janice Galloway's The Trick Is To Keep Breathing, Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting and A.L. Kennedy's So I Am Glad. Chapter Seven comprises a review of more recent work to illustrate the continuing vibrancy and diversity of contemporary Scottish fiction and to help put the literary and political history into a contemporary context. The main theme of this thesis is addiction, central to much of the content of these novels: to alcohol, drugs, sex, anorexia nervosa and bulimia. The principal argument of each novel suggests the incompatibility of the ideologies of the capitalist and imperialist systems with self-determination, social justice and questions of class and language. Patriarchy and the role of institutions are observed as repressive instruments of government and the embedded attitudes of state and family display a culture that exhibits many of the symptoms of the individual addict. The effects of the widening poverty gap as a result of the "Thatcher Revolution" in Scotland are examined through the disrupted lives of the novels' protagonists; the effects of church and state on the lack of community are also considered. Cross generational family dysfunction or absence of family is also evident in all the narratives depicting a culture of dependency and blame and a preponderance of sexual immaturity. Scotland as a nation is portrayed as a victimized society with a history of an absence of entitlement, with respect not only to women, but also to men. Violent behavior is commonplace and condoned; the "hard man" is not purely a sensationalist fictional character. The impact of Scotland as a stateless nation is cumulative and has resulted in a certain social paralysis (denial) and hopelessness (hangover), leading to varying responses for three of the male protagonists in the novels of Gray, Welsh and Kelman: from escape to attempted suicide. All but one of the novels uses first-person, interior monologue as a device to draw the reader into a more sympathetic understanding of the protagonists' pain and trauma, in what are, generally disturbing and depressing narratives. The use of experimental literary devices and different literary genres is a hallmark of all the novels, from the mixing of realism and fantasy to the pared-down existential narrative illustrating the dysfunction and fragmentation of the protagonists. The voices of all but one clearly define the protagonists as coming from a working-class background. The fictional characters are all wrestling with their own demons in an effort to make some sense out of their lives, but humor is the saving grace of most, lifting the reader out of depths of despair that these stories might have engendered. There is, however a divide in the emotional and political perspective of the last two and most recent novels, enabling the protagonists to walk away from their dependent selves and serving notice to the repressive effects of church and state. Women, however, are portrayed as symbolic creatures of an abused nation, near parodies of sexual stereotyping or off in the margins and footnotes in the three novels written by men. The two female novelists treat their subjects differently. While the content of the novels is no less despairing the female protagonists argue compellingly that madness might well be a viable alternative to their present situation. Evident in both are intimate observations on the themes of sudden death, family dysfunction, oppression, suppression and loneliness, leading one protagonist to display violent and abusive sexual behavior and the other to be on the verge of a mental breakdown. However, these two novels by women also point more positively toward recovery, as if coming out a period of intense therapy. While all the novels portray a demonic view of Scottish life, there is honesty to the narratives, which helps to give them a distinctive voice and place internationally. If literature as protest is allied with political action in representing the need for Scotland to come to terms with itself and its history, these novels help take the first steps toward recovery and self-determination.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Additional Information: Adviser: Carol Anderson
Keywords: British & Irish literature
Date of Award: 2002
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2002-74033
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 23 Sep 2019 15:33
Last Modified: 23 Sep 2019 15:33
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/74033

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