Talk of the Toun
by Helen MacKinven
An uplifting black comedy of love, family life and friendship, Talk of the Toun is a bittersweet coming-of-age tale set in the summer of 1985, in working class, central belt Scotland.
Lifelong friends Angela and Lorraine are two very different girls, with a growing divide in their aspirations and ambitions putting their friendship under increasing strain.
Artistically gifted Angela has her sights set on art school, but lassies like Angela, from a small town council scheme, are expected to settle for a nice wee secretarial job at the local factory. Her only ally is her gallus gran, Senga, the pet psychic, who firmly believes that her granddaughter can be whatever she wants.
Though Lorraine’s ambitions are focused closer to home Angela has plans for her too, and a caravan holiday to Filey with Angela’s family tests the dynamics of their relationship and has lifelong consequences for them both.
Effortlessly capturing the religious and social intricacies of 1980s Scotland, Talk of the Toun is the perfect mix of pathos and humour as the two girls wrestle with the complications of growing up and exploring who they really are.
Talk of the Toun is a coming-of-age tale, seen through the eyes of 17 year old Angela McMenemy. Her life revolves around her friend Lorraine and trying to persuade her family that she should be allowed to go to Art school.
Set on a council housing scheme in working class Scotland, Angela’s lifelong friendship with Lorraine seems to be falling apart and she can’t work out why; nor is she ready to let go. Whilst sitting in a cafe with Lorraine, Angela makes a decision that has wide repercussions for both girls, leading them to a caravan site in Filey and terrible consequences.
This book is absolutely jam-packed with observational humour, much of it in the local Scots dialect (which I loved). It will make you chuckle and laugh out loud, but it will also make you cringe and gag. The author misses nothing and if you are of a certain age it is a fantastic memory trip.
The characters are brilliant, very well-drawn. Angela, present throughout, is a hugely complex character, seemingly confident but in reality wracked with self-esteem issues and hiding behind Lorraine’s friendship. As the novel goes on she becomes more and more dislikeable and you have to decide whether she is just not a very nice person or whether it’s her lack of maturity. The author portrays her brilliantly. Those middle teenage years when everything you have known and relied on begins to change, people take different directions and you’re trying to work out where you belong. This is Angela, a mass of contradictions; she feels superior to Lorraine and certain that she needs her to survive but in reality Lorraine is maturing faster than Angela.
Angela’s family are well portrayed, again amidst observational humour mixed with pathos, that takes your breath away. The relationship between Angela and her gran is one of the best things in the book, she is Angela’s greatest supporter but also understands her better than she understands herself and knows just when to rein her in.
I really enjoyed this book, Helen MacKinven interweaves the background of working class Scotland soaked in religous bigotry with a story of friendships and family all wrapped up in that ‘salt-of-the-earth’ humour. I would highly recommend.
Many thanks to the author and Thunderpoint Publishing for sending me a copy.