Although this could be a generalisation, I find a lot of Scottish writers have this knack for setting up a serious and potentially dangerous situation and then making the reader laugh in the process: James Kelman , Alan Warner, Irvine Welsh, Janice Galloway , Ali Smith and this is not limited to fiction, Alan McGee’s account of his time as a head of Creation Records, Primal Scream’s Bobby Gilliespie’s impoverished childhood and Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite’s shenanigans all made me laugh.
Peter Bennett’s novel Liberties is no exception.
The main focus is on two protagonists Arthur and Danny Coyle. The former is a pensioner and is struggling to keep up with life having lost his wife and son. The latter, Danny is Arthur’s grandson, a university dropout, dodging jobs and hanging out with his childhood friend. He harbours thoughts that his dad (Arthur’s son) might have died in unusual ways. This is also 1998, two years into the Blair administration and things aren’t looking so great.
To make matters worse, Arthurs’ mixed up with the loan sharks due to the poor economy and he cannot pay it off and needs Danny’s help. In helping out Danny finds out he is linked with the mobsters in an odd way, which may shed some light on his past.
Yes, there is a plot but Liberties is mainly a novel about the strength ties between family and friends. Danny’s two best friends may be trouble but there’s an unbreakable bond between them especially when one of the friends experiences a loss. Danny also realises that, no matter how fragmented, a family should stick together and both Danny and Arthur learn from each other.
Liberties is also a commentary about social class and the divides that occur, which exposes the so called labour government as a sham. Half of Arthur’s problems would not have occurred if the pension was stable. In one scene Danny and his friends go out for a walk and all three observe what is happening to their lives due to the political situation.
As I said earlier, one trait of Scottish fiction is that there is humour. One of the funniest scenes in the book happens earlier on when Danny finally is employed by a company only to be reprimanded by a senior worker the second he enters the place. The fact that Peter Bennett’s characters uses Scottish dialect just makes the laughs come out louder. There’s a fine line between tragedy and comedy and it’s crossed quite a few times here and I’m glad it does!
There are tender moments too, my personal favourite being Danny coming to terms with his past while James’ Tomorrow is playing on his stereo. It’s gooseflesh inducing and cinematic. if Liberties were to be adapted, I could see this scene having a chilling effect on the audience.
Humour, Pathos, Scottish dialect and bear hug moments. What more could you want from a book? Liberties has it all. it’s a fine read.
Many thanks to the author for providing a copy of Liberties