Janey Godley (2005) Handstands in the Dark

The librarian looked at me when I checked this book out.  I’m used to this, being very handsome, a bit like a young Sean Connery only older and balder and a bit more in the beef stakes. But the librarian was a man. I’ve nothing against that kind of thing. These barriers are breaking down. If a librarian wants to be a man and wants to gawk at me and manhandle my choice of book then that’s his perogative. He looked as if he wanted to say something, but as Jane Godley showed time after time, men in Glasgow don’t talk to each other. They make innane stament and wait for the other guy to trip over it. So if I met a man with three heads in my local I’d just sip my beer and maybe later ask him where he got his hair cut. The librarian said he’d seen her [the author of the book I’d chosen] doing standup. He’d said she’d been to Austrailia and Billy Connelly had been in the audience at one of her gigs. I asked him if he’d booed. That was a joke. You shouldn’t have to do jokes, but Jane Godley undestands what Glasgow men are like. At the age of six she was trying to work out a way to commit suicide. Her mother’s brother was regularly raping her and, although she didn’t know it at the time, also her sister Ann, who was a few years older than her. Her mother refused to deal with it. She warned Janey if she told her father he would end up murdering him and end up  in prison for a very long time. Her father was a weekend alcholic and her mother, a young girl herself, with four kids (two brothers Mij and Vid) in Glasgow’s East End couldn’t cope, and also liked her drink and Valium, with periodic bouts in the local nut house.  But Godley is too good a writer to leave us with that unleavened stereotype. She helps us to understand her mother and love her quirky ways and feel sad when she’s—almost certainly—murdered by her psychopathic boyfriend, who took up with her after her dad leaves home. She also helps us to understand how she ended up dating and marrying a local gangster’s son, Sean Storrie and how she loves and hates him at the same time.  Old George is an old-fashioned patriarch with seven sons. He is the family business. Sean and Jane find a home and kinship in  one of Old George’s projects The Nationalist Bar which they rename The Weavers. Their success provokes jealousy from other family members. But it was a divide and rule world.

'Old George seemed to enjoy torturing me. He behaved the same to his sons. If he found a weakness he would pick at it like a scab until it bled. Old George had lost his wife; his sons had lost their own mother; but they were not averse to hurting me and laughing about my Mammy’s death.'

  Janey gets pregnant and in the usual way of her life nothing is straightforward. The fetus poisons her body and she can’t keep food down is constantly sick or nauseous and has to go to the hospital to be fed be intravenous drip a couple of times a week. Ashley, when she is born, is the one thing that binds the family together and even Old George is charmed by her. The mark of a great writer is you love them and you love whom they love. Of course, I love Ashley too. But I fiind it hard when, in a Byzantine political manouvere to keep corrupt Glasgow City Councillors from shutting Weavers Bar they and their cronies join the Conservtive Party. As part of the young Conservative couple from Calton, Janey  gets to meet Margaret Thatcher.  My smypathy only extends so far. The only people I wanted to meet Thatcher were the Brighton bombers, but I suppose in her circumstances this is understandable. And her book is endorsed by the Daily Mail. When Old George dies everything unravels. It’s brother against brother and family be fucked, which sounds Thatcherite to me. But I am biased, but Jane Godley does not need my, or any other person’s sympathy. This is right up there with Growing up in the Gorbals, Ralph Glasser’s classic account of what it felt like to be poor in early twentieth-century Glasgow. I can pay her no greater compliment than that.


Love your blogs. All of them. This is the best I've read. Have laughed until my sphinctor threatened to rip and am also suitably moved. Want to read the book. Have just read Gorbals on your recommendation. You were right. One of the best books I've read. Also feel you should have a big-ass public blog to share your literary views on because you make the biggest sense with the sharpest cuts. 


God Vera, I don't want to cause you to have women's problems. It's always nice to hear from you and if you say nice things about me I can quietly blush and say 'shucks'. I'm glad you read Glasser. A real masterpiece.


Glasser makes me want people to talk about it, open it up. Nobody seems to know about it.