Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Nail and Other Stories by Laura Hird

Nail I have never written a book review before so I have just made up some rules to help me to do it. I will read some books I was going to read anyway and then if I have anything to say about them I will write it down and put it on this blog.I want to tell you about the book that I read last night: Nail and Other Stories by Laura Hird. It was published in 1997 by Rebel Inc Series, which are now a bit of Canongate. I like Canongate. I think if they had a philosophy it would be more about taste than profit, which I think is a good thing.

I just looked on the back of the book and it says it costs £6.99. Or you could do what I did and get it from the library, which is free. There are some quotations on the back of the book. One of them is by The Face and it says ‘Tied together with cutting insights and sharp style, making Nail bite scratch and chew. Librarians should file with care.’ Librarians do not file, they shelve, but the rest of what The Face said was about right.

Hird has been compared to Irvine Welsh, probably because they are both Scots and sometimes write in dialect and don’t mind putting a bit of swearing in if the story needs it. The thing I like best about her writing is the way she gets right into it. I don’t like a lot of description or pre-amble, or being told what to think. Reading these stories is a bit like watching a film. She starts the first story like this: ‘At first I thought it was a spale. There was just this little ink line on the index finger of my right hand.’ A line of ink like that makes you want to ask a lot of questions and read on more – like first lines are supposed to – but it is not attention-seeking either, which a lot of first lines are.

Another think I like is that Laura Hird’s writing is simple and not clichéd and on most pages there was a phrase or a sentence that made me feel good about being alive and reading. A young boy on a bus avoiding a neglectful mother says, ‘A plate of horse’s baws oot of Kwik-Save once a day and that fanny pretending to be my dad and I’m supposed to be fucking grateful or something?’ The directness of the anger and the surprising knowingness are good, but so is the unsentimental tenderness, the sorrow and the hope in the last line: ‘I go into the kitchen and eat a few cheese slices, then get a couple of Penguins and go to bed with that wee lassie’s face like a Polaroid photo in my heid.’

Critics of Hird’s style might suggest it is easy to make stories about a man fucking a dead woman and then setting her alight or a dead lesbian watching her lover shag her ex-boyfriend seem daring and edgy and truthful. I don’t think writing about violent or gory or “taboo” things necessarily is more truthful that writing about small, domestic, ordinary things. Hird’s writing is tender without being sentimental and detached without being cold. You can read about two teenage girls torturing a mentally handicapped boy, setting in motion events that lead to his humiliation and his (we presume) death, but between the lines of ink that describe these explosive events, there is a lot of quiet. The wordless laughter that ends this story (’The Initiation’) leaves a gap for a sort of understanding or empathy. It is hard to make a reader empathise with a person doing something bad, but I think in some of these stories she does that.

Laura Hird has a website and you can read one of her stories for free here.

Canongate, paperback, 1997, 240 pp., ISBN: 0862416779 (out of print)

5 comments on “Nail and Other Stories by Laura Hird

  1. Ariadne
    October 21, 2007

    Intriguing. Is it anything like Jackie Kay?

  2. Jackie
    October 22, 2007

    What an unconventional book & author this must be. From the description, she sounds a bit like Shirley Jackson, tapping into that dark, uncivilized side of humanity.

  3. Jenn
    October 22, 2007

    I’ve never tried Shirley Jackson or Jackie Kay before – I will have to look them up. I’ve just bought Miranda July’s collection of short stories, and I’ve got a stack of library books too but there are always room for a few more.

  4. Jenn
    March 12, 2008

    I just read this again and I am not pleased that I wrote ‘mentally handicapped’. I think it should be ‘a boy with learning difficulties’ or something like that. I am not a bad person and we do not live in the 1950s anymore. Sorry.

  5. Pingback: Where Are They Now? « Vulpes Libris

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This entry was posted on October 21, 2007 by in Entries by Jenn, Fiction: literary, Fiction: short stories and tagged , .

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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