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The Boston Globe

Books

Book review

‘Mo Said She Was Quirky’ by James Kelman

Early on in Scottish writer James Kelman’s newest novel, “Mo Said She Was Quirky,’’ Helen (the titular “she”) thinks this about her live-in boyfriend Mo’s silliness: “She liked it about him but also she didnt like it.” This is exactly how I feel about the novel itself, which is terrifically compelling except in those somewhat isolated moments when it’s terrifically aggravating.

I suspect this wouldn’t be news to Kelman, nor would it bother him overmuch: For Kelman, the least important thing a novel can produce is plot; the most important is insight. And if the insight being produced is filtered through the consciousness of a limited character — and all characters worth anything are limited — then some of the insight is bound to aggravate. A novelist like Kelman not only accepts this limitation, but celebrates it: His newest book suggests that a mind — and a novel — is capable of great insight, but we would not be able to understand how great the insight is if we were not, occasionally, allowed to see how great it sometimes is not.

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