Ryan O’Connor (2022) The Voids.

I often find it easy to say what I don’t like about a book, or film or documentary. But books are my thing. And if I met Ryan O’Connor (which is highly unlikely) I’d shake his hand and tell him his debut novel is fucking great. Dan O’Connor writes about people like us.  

Chris Leslie (2016) Disappearing Glasgow: A Photographic Journey summed it up.

‘I always presumed the Red Road flats would last forever, but when you see it now in this state you realise it’s over. It’s not the actual building itself, but all your memories, that’s where I was brought up, that’s where I was made.’

Leslie photographed The Birdman and his doos, one of the last residents in the soon to be demolished high flats.

The opening paragraph is the readers’ guillotine:

‘I was living on the fourteenth floor of a condemned high-rise. I was all alone up there. One of the few remaining tenants in the building. The others, a character known as the Birdman and several pensioners who hadn’t set foot on terra firma for years, were scattered throughout the floors below.

…The Birdman was in his late forties and had a flat on the fourth floor that he shared with a flock of pigeons. Regardless of the weather, his living-room window was always open to allow the birds to come and go. Every morning he’d be in there in his guano-covered dressing gown, dragging his oxygen tank back and forth as he fed the pigeons jostling and cooing loudly at his windowsill.’

Chris Leslie took photographs of The Birdman. Ryan O’Connor gives him shape in the opening paragraphs of his book set in an unnamed Glasgow city-centre high-rise. Most characters that are given such premium billing are likely to be the protagonist or the antagonist. But after the opening page the Birdman is no longer part of the narrative. His job is to set the tone. The soon to be thirty-year-old protagonist is his own antagonist.  Drink and drugs. His life is fucked up or he wouldn’t be living in the (Red-Road) flats. The writer’s job is to make things worse and broadly comprehensible.

A journey such as the drink sodden British consul takes in Under the Volcano. Or after the last Celtic v Rangers match at Ibrox when my mate shouted I should help Billy up the road. I shouted, ‘Nae bother’.  I was going that way, but Billy didn’t know where his legs were and kept falling down. I’d help him up and help carry him along the road and ask him where his house was. He’d wave an arm and fall down. Then two younger guys loomed from out of the darkness.  That’s also a journey, but along the back roads of Trafalgar Street. O’Connor uses a broader city-centre canvas that takes in the affluent West End, and the not so affluent Govan. A journey into his past.  He even goes abroad. But it’s the same story of falling down and failure to get up.  

In the second chapter, he finds his true love, or she finds him. Same difference. He’s blootered, but she doesn’t seem to mind. Then she does. Of course she does. Other troubled women fling themselves at him. He’s handsome and boyish and they want to save him. Each lost love gets a chapter. Mia, for example, takes him to live in The George. It’s a hotel that hadn’t so much rooms as cages where no one knows the room numbers and everybody has the same key.

Chapter three tells the reader what he did for a living and how he lost his job. He worked as a journalist for The Examiner. One of those newspapers someone hands you and you stick it straight in the bin or drop it in the street (litter lout). He’s not so much sacked as told to stay on the sick and never come back. The problem with social realism is you expect reality.

He always finds enough money to haunt pubs and clubs, drink all night and day, take drugs, and even finds enough spare cash to sneak back and stick a couple of hundred quid through the door of an Iraqi drug dealer he’s ripped off, with a ‘Sorry note’. Although he’s fucked, he’s not that fucked. He leads a charmed life.

Minor quibbles, in what is a fantastic book that I loved reading. I’ll be looking for more from Ryan O’Connor. Read on.



This sounds banging, CM. Cracking review of what sounds like an author and book worth discovering. (And I like the word "blootered". It should be used more)


scottish word, marinda. dialect. our national anthem.