It happened on her way home from the casino one morning, Helen noticed the two men through the side passenger window. A pair of homeless guys. One was tall and skinny, the other smaller, heavier built and walking with a limp, quite a bad limp. They approached the traffic lights and were going to cross the road in front of her taxi, right in front of its nose. The lights were red but set to change. Surely the men knew that? The tall man was having to walk slowly to stay abreast of the other, almost having to stop. He was full bearded and wearing a woollen cap. Although he was taking small steps Helen could imagine him striding out, his stride would be long and it would be hard keeping up with him. There was something else about him, to do with his shape and the way he walked, just something.
Would they make it across in time? Only if they hurried. They wouldnt hurry, not them. You could tell just by looking. They went at their own pace and that was that.
Helen looked away, then looked back. Her workmates Caroline and Jill were beside her in the back seat but hadnt noticed the drama. The lights would change and the taxi would move. What would they do? Nothing, just keep walking. Oh God, Helen hated this kind of thing. Why did she even notice? Typical. She always had to. Other people didnt.
Only it was so tense, too tense.
Caroline and Jill were chatting about something else together, Caroline’s husband, the never-ending saga. They hadnt noticed any of it. But the taxi driver had. This was Danny, one of the regulars; Helen saw his eyes in the rearview mirror, no doubt wondering the same as her; would the men make it across before the lights changed to green as surely they must, they must. Why was it taking so long? Another car pulled in on the outside lane.
Helen was holding her breath. She didnt realise this until suddenly she breathed in and it made a sound. The tension was just—my God, but they walked so slowly. Alkies, muttered Danny, but they didnt look drunk to her.
They reached the kerb. The small man’s limp really was bad, even painful. Perhaps he had been in an accident. Then the tall skinny one, there was something about him too the way his elbows crooked, his hands in his side coat pockets. It was him Helen was watching. He was not in the slightest drunk. She recognised something, whatever it was; a kind of deliberate quality, in how he moved, slow but not slow; slow in his movements but not in his thoughts, seeing everything, even himself.
Helen settled back further in the seat. She didnt want him seeing her. Why didnt the lights change? This was the longest ever.
At the moment the amber joined the red the two men stepped out from the pavement onto the road. The exact moment. This was when they did it. It was so weird. At this time of the morning too, with everything so quiet, so peaceful. Helen could hardly believe it and was glad of the shadows there in the back. She didnt like being in taxis with poor people seeing her, as though she was rich, she wasnt. It was silly but sometimes she felt it. They were directly in front of the taxi. It lurched forwards a tiny fraction. Danny must have raised his foot on the accelerator pedal for one split moment only but it was enough for the lurch and the tall skinny guy turned his head and stared in at him and at Helen and the other two women. He was not that old either. Only how he looked, wild, wild-looking, wild as in—not dangerous. People might have thought it, almost like crazy, they would think that too, he was not, only mannerisms, how some people
Brian, it was Brian, her brother Brian.
How could it be but it was, it was his movements and his shape my God Brian, it was Brian. The car in the outside lane had rolled forwards then halted. The lights were green.
The taxi quivered but couldnt move. How far had the pair travelled? Hardly at all; they didnt care. So aggressive! Brian was not aggressive. It was his physical shape but not his behaviour; the way he was staring in at them, so intimidating, and forcing them to wait. And Danny was waiting my God, he hated that. Patience, patience. Whoever heard of a patient taxi driver? He rushed everywhere, giving people rows. Not this time. Helen saw his head lowered, not drawing attention to himself. Usually he was tough or acted like it. Helen had seen him before with other drivers, he never backed down. He would take them all on, that was how he acted. This was different. These two homeless guys made it different, they were going at their own pace and everybody else could wait.
Now the taxi was moving. Helen opened her eyes, seeing out the window. Danny shifted from second gear up to third, the engine roaring and rushing on, venting his anger and annoyance. Jill exchanged looks with her. The car in the outside lane must have been behind them, so too the homeless guys. Caroline had the phone in her hand and was smiling. I wanted to take their picture, she said, but I was too scared! Did you see his face? the one with the scraggy beard, the tall one?
Helen looked at her. Caroline gave an exaggerated shiver. Imagine meeting him on a dark night!
She spoke in a whisper. Why did she whisper? What was the point of whispering? So silly, just so silly, and not nice either, as though there was something horrible, it was prejudice pure and simple.
Are you alright? asked Jill, leaning to Helen, nudging her arm.
Yes, said Helen but she wasnt alright at all. Just weird, that was how she felt. Caroline chattered on about his height and how he was so so thin and his beard and all of it, like as if something was wrong with being tall and with a beard, or being thin.
Why people are thin my God what kind of world was it, for having no food, they get made to blame, if you dont have enough to eat and end up thin it becomes your fault. It wasnt fair. Scraggy. That was a beard, so if you didnt comb it or shave it, if it was a beard, whatever men did—how could they if they were homeless and didnt have any scissors or razors? how could you blame them? Wild and scraggy, it wasnt fair talking like that and like he was dangerous. Not if it was Brian, he was not dangerous, never. Now Caroline was wanting to text her husband, even although he was asleep in bed. Why? What did she want to say? She didnt know anything. There wasnt anything to know. Except how he looked. Jill too. I thought he was creepy, she said.
It wasnt like Jill to say that. People were prejudiced. And Danny heard her and was listening. Helen saw his eyes reflected in the rear mirror. The word “creepy” could be said about a lot of men. She didnt much like Danny. He acted as if he was there to protect them. But was he? No. Would he? No. Danny was there to drive his taxi and that was that, just get on with the job and make his money, that was him. He shouted back over his shoulder: What you think about them then eh, dirty filthy buggers! Dont give a rat’s toss! Go where they want, walk where they want. They do what they want, whatever they want! I would run over the fucking top of them.
Oh watch your language you! called Caroline, but with a smile.
Danny waited a moment before replying. It’s alright for you lot, working inside your casino, I’m out here on the street. Guys like me got to deal with them animals!
They are human beings, said Jill.
He wasnt listening. It reminded Helen of somebody, her ex-husband of course, the same mentality. Men like them didnt listen, they talked. Not so much talked as boasted, how good they were and all what they did and how they got the better of everybody else. That was Danny to a tee. He had his “message” for comfort, wedged down the side of the driver’s seat. He called it “the message” but it was a weapon. If anybody tried it on with him, he had “the message” and they would get “the message.” Whoever it was, just let them try it and he would bash them. He had shown them it. A solid big shifting spanner. If ever they messed with him, he would break their skull. Even without the weapon he would take them on. Although why anybody would want to mess with a taxi driver was beyond him. They had to be thick if they did because you mess with one you mess with them all. Other taxi drivers would be there in a moment. Every driver within a stone’s throw, they would rush to back up a mate in trouble: that was how they operated. One for all and all for one.
That was what he said, and looked fierce while saying it. It might have been male boasting but that didnt mean it was false. Only this time was different, the two homeless guys made it different. What was it about them? Something.
Helen didnt see Danny as a coward. Neither was her ex. But they were not like the toughest, the real dangerous ones. When you worked in casinos you saw them. They had that certain quality. It didnt matter the nationality, it was them as individuals, a thing they had that was dangerous, like a twisted mentality. Other men left them alone, just like now with the homeless guys. Except if it was bravado, if they had had too much to drink and were beyond the sensible stage. Then they tried to speak or joke with these dangerous ones, like they were on an equal footing. It was childish. The dangerous ones smiled or else ignored them but eventually they didnt; it might only be a stare but it was enough to call their bluff like in poker at the late stage, when somebody gets asked the question: You raising or what? What you doing? It is up to the bluffers what they do but whatever it is it will be a real thing with a real consequence. Bluffing doesnt come into it. If they arent ready for that then stop the stupidity, just shut up, go away.
Danny had kept his head down. It was the best thing too because what if he hadnt? The way the tall skinny one was staring at him. You didnt know what would happen. Some could be calmed. Some couldnt. That is part of the threat. What if they lose it altogether. These dangerous ones are telling ...
"A marvelous achievement, restrained and deeply moving."— Booklist
" Mo said she was quirky is an unassuming book that achieves a terrible grandeur. James Kelman gives us, in his compelling narrator Helen, a guide through the rough life of those who live with poverty, racism, doubt, and—in spite of it all—hope. This compassionate, humane novel comes as close to creating life—writ both large and small—as is possible in literature."—Sabina Murray, author of Tales of the New World and winner of the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction
"Mo said she was quirky is a brave, compassionate book, and Kelman is a singular and unique talent. I know of no other writer who conveys as accurately the rhythms and experience of everyday life. This is one of his best books."—Shannon Burke, author of Black Flies
"A bracing stream-of-consciousness tale of life on London’s lower rungs from the veteran Scottish novelist and Booker Prize winner...a gritty and wise snapshot of urban life."— Kirkus
"[Helen's] perceptions are sharp, sweet, clever, mundane, startling, witty, poignant and humane – it's reminiscent of Molly Bloom's soliloquy in Ulysses, but more fun to read."— Independent (UK)
" Mo Said She Was Quirky is a powerful and understated stream of consciousness tale that explores important themes of gender, class, and race."— Largehearted Boy
"It [is] beautiful, the whole book. Helen is one woman representing so many other women..."— Paper Blog
"Virginia Woolf’s and James Joyce’s studies of characters’ inner ramblings are a Modernist artifact for plenty of writers and readers today. But for Kelman, they remain a useful way to explore the depths of people often considered outsiders."— Kirkus
"With Mo said she was Quirky, Kelman answers his character’s question: because we learn about our own life by reading about the life of others."— The Coffin Factory
"Kelman's latest novel slides easily between scene and free indirect rumination, combining ambitious psychological breadth with the necessary authorial restraint to fully inhabit the mind of Helen"— Publishers Weekly
"Final exam question: Who's the best writer you’ve never heard of? It’s not James Salter any more but the Scottish author James Kelman."— On the Town
"This is a fascinating character study of a Scottish woman trying to keep from drowning though she wants to give up but others depend on her so she keeps treading."— Genre Go Round Reviews
"Plunging into a novel by James Kelman is like diving head-first into a chilly lake. It's a shock to your system at first, and a bit disorienting, but the trick is to keep moving. Once your muscles get warmed up and you get your bearings, the experience is exhilarating."—The Baltimore Sun
"Kelman masters poetic stream of consciousness with bleak but sometimes tender images, tugging at the bonds of blood versus the families we choose to make for ourselves. The author expertly explores how far we will go for those we love, even if they've already been lost to us for years, and what happens when the past we have run so far from seeps regardless into our present."—Interview Magazine
"...a fascinating character study..."—Midwest Book Review
"...here's hoping this restless and inventive novel raises [Kelman's] profile stateside."—The New York Times Book Review
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Description du livre État : New. Bookseller Inventory # ST0141041617. N° de réf. du libraire ST0141041617
Description du livre Penguin, 2013. Paperback. État : Brand New. 240 pages. In Stock. N° de réf. du libraire zk0141041617