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3.4 out of 5 stars
Our Fathers
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 13 January 2000
This, in spite of the universal swell of acclaim which has greeted this book, is not only the most Scottish of novels, but indeed the most West of Scotland of novels, taking place mostly in Burns' Country in the south-west (Ayrshire) and in the uncrowned capital of Glasgow. The pleasure for a native Glaswegian lies in an immediate recognition of accent, pronunciation, speech patterns, patois and what amounts to the subtle insertion from time to time of private jokes. O'Hagan's skill lies in remaining true to his roots while not alienating his wider reading public. The novel covers four generations, from the narrator's paternal great-grandfather, married to an eventual Suffragette, but fated to die himself in Flanders fields, to his paternal grandfather, the socialist town planner, Hugh Bawn and his own father, Robert. Although he tots up the failings and sins of those fathers, the narrator himself (Jamie) is probably guilty of the greatest crime, that of refusing to extend the life of the Bawns into the next generation. Elsewhere, too, the author pulls no punches: Scotsmen's houses and mouths prove the one to be as uninhabitable as the other. Rotting teeth and filthy language suggest that fellow Scottish author James Kelman's portrayal of the average (West of) Scotsman is not that far wide of the mark. Perhaps we're better off keeping out of sight and letting the written word do our talking. Fortunately, yes fortunately, we have Our Mothers. The women outlive the men, and in many other ways overtake them in the survival stakes. If their menfolk are aye at the ready with a curse, the women prefer a song, preferring, strangely enough, "Blanket on the Ground" to the perennial "I Will Survive". A final word, to Andrew, in the words of one of his characters: "Gone yourself!" I'm sure he'll get it.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 29 September 2007
I've had this book sitting around unread, like piles of others, for couple of years. But unlike many of the other novels I eventually got round to, I genuinely regretted not reading this one earlier. The book covers three generations of the Bawn family and is full of succinct comments and anecdotes about how the different generations view each other and how life changed for all of us in the second half of the twentieth century.
Concurrently it looks at the strains in Anglo-Scots relations, as Jamie Bawn (the youngest of the generations) returns to Scotland from England to be with his dying grandfather (who was more of a father figure to him than his blood-father). As Jamie straddles the line between Scotsman and Englishman (at least in the eyes of the Scots), so O'Hagan walks the line between Scots literature in the vein of Kelman, Welsh etc (ie, there are small smatters of Scots dialect along with snapshots of the grittier life lived within the walls of the public house) and the more `English' novel as we've come to know it, in the vein of Ishiguro, McEwan and others - that of ideas, memory and the more traditional narrative structure (even if it does seamlessly slip between eras in a less signposted, and much more illuminating, way than these two authors - in a way that in fact reminded me of Sartre's `The Reprive').
It's examination of the social impact of the new housing constructions in Scottish cities in the mid-twentieth century - from the compelling portrait of the climate at the time of their construction to the disappointed aftermath of the 1990s - is enlightening and perfectly pitched, while it's forays into the rise and fall of socialism puts the icing on the cake of what is one of the most perfectly structured and delivered novels of the 1990s. Highly recommended.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 7 March 2000
This novel was shortlisted both for the Booker and the Whitbread prizes, and no wonder. It is a small masterpiece, a devastating, and devastatingly beautifully-written, book that is as much about love, loss and redemption as it is about socialism and the death of the old Left. As for 'a dismally punishing read' (below) - well, only if you don't have a heart.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 10 December 2000
Our Fathers tells the story of the Bawn family through its generations. Its main focus is on Hugh Bawn, a dominant social reformer in Scotland during the later half of the twentieth century, as seen through the eyes of Hugh's grandson Jaime. Through Jaime, Andrew O'Hagan is able to take a look at the country's old left from a futuristic point of view (the same point of view that lead to the collapse of the social reform movement of the sixties and seventies), while having it checked by the interests of his grandfather that stay loyal despite the change in time. The result is a book that is filled with respectable conversation and ideas regarding the change of an era of Scottish history. The text also includes a very vivid description of the old and new Scotland as well as its landscape, faiths, and drink. To do this the novel taps into the lives of the late Euphemia Bawn and her husband, Jaime's parents, and of course, Hugh Bawn. They are all pieces in the puzzle of Jaime's life that come together as he struggles to understand it and finally put his darkened childhood behind him.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 26 September 2006
I loved this book. Speaking as a Scot, it's a realistic and insightful examination of Scottish masculinity. It evokes the west coast, class issues, anti-English prejudice and delusion so well it's as if I were there. And it's a refreshing alternative to many Scots voices that celebrate macho bravado. I found the writing easy (and I'm not very good with "poetic" writing so I think it's unjustified to criticise his style for this as one of the other reviewers does below). I also read it in one weekend so don't understand criticism of the pace. Read this. Especially if you're Scottish, but also if you're not.
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on 23 July 2012
The novel opens with a young Jamie Bawn travelling alone on a train from Berwick to Ayrshire. His parents are travelling separately, by car, a decision made on account of the alcoholism of Jamie's father.

A gloomy beginning, that doesn't get any better - why did I expect anything different from a novel set on the west coast of Scotland? On the back of my copy, Ian Rankin describes it as 'a beautiful, elegiac work...' For that, read brooding, mournful and melancholic.

The core of the story centres on Jamie's grandfather Hugh Bawn, a west coast visionary who pushed the tearing down of tenements and their replacement by high rise flats. Now in his thirties and living in England, Jamie returns to Ayrshire to be at his dying grandfathers bedside - some 18 floors up in a decaying high rise flat. There are questions over their construction - and moves afoot for their destruction, bringing a sensitive, if inconclusive, perspective on a big issue of the time.

The style of the novel is poetic, swinging more to the side of overdone than beautiful, and this coupled with the sense that the story is really not much more than a prolonged obituary for the great Hugh Bawn, makes this a read that is somewhat lacking in either pace or plot. Pluses, such as they are, come from the dialogue and the small interjections of dry west coast humour.

In summary, this is a book that I was rather glad to get to the end of, to free myself up for something a bit more cherful.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 28 October 1999
'Our Fathers' paints a picture of the West of Scotland in brutal, harsh monochrome which is honest and true, but terrifyingly bleak and hopeless for all that. At times it seems like the end of the world, pressed under grey skies that enclose a population crippled and suppressed by their own history and insularity. An occasional boiling resentment of England rises to the top, but given that a boiling resentment of virtually everything is suggested throughout, this is not exceptional. A sordid air of alcohol and violence pervades everything, not least the language. Ambition and aspiration are mostly non-existent. The only flicker of redeeming optimism comes in Jamie's dreams of his girlfriend Karen in Liverpool (though even this is blighted by his thoughts of the child that he has denied her) and in a kind of reconciliation with his mother and father. His mother has remarried, while is father is a recovering alcoholic. Although the violence has left their lives, a kind of quiet desperation remains for both. Throughout, it is not a barrel of laughs.
Characterised by an intense, unremitting, humourlessness, obtuse and dense in its style, this is not a book which welcomes you in. In terms of style it is a strange compromise between an absolutely bleak and uncompromising construction and a somewhat lurid vocabulary - the book is characterised by short cheerless, staccato sentences, which nonetheless embrace some fairly wild and purple imagery. Irritating in the extreme, not least as the style gets in the way of the substance - in a few parts, the narrative style becomes straightforward and the book picks up some pace, only to bog down in Celtic cod-mysticism again a few pages later.
This is a book which is only half-realised. The scene is accurately captured, the characters show occasional signs of life, but O'Hagan singularly fails to take them anywhere. Maybe next time.
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on 22 May 2015
This is an amazing book showing great insight into recent Scottish history as well as the Scottish character. I found it rather gloomy at times but always true to life, evoking memories of people from my past. At times it became overwhelming, it was so true to life and touched a nerve that left me raw. How did we ever get through that period of industrial decline and renewal and what is its legacy?
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on 3 March 2014
I can't criticise the quality of writing but at over 40% of the way through the book I find O'Hagan's style disengaging. I'll stay with it but am not looking forward to reading on a daily basis and just find it tedious. I feel he's constantly setting the scene but never gets to the story, possibly lack of dialogue keeps the reader at arm's length. Not for me.
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on 25 April 1999
Tells the "big" story of those who wanted to build heaven on earth and ended up buidling hell - through the lives of 3/4 generations of the Bawm family. Beautifully written. Well done Mr O'Hagan.
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