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Four Tales: With an Introduction by Macdonald Daly Paperback – 12 Apr 2001
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The four tales at long last brought into print again here are the most substantial fruit of John Herdman's mature work of the late 1960s and early 1970s. While they represent both the development and variety of his style and themes, they also exhibit constancies of preoccupation. Herdman's concerns for questions of the will and self-assertion, with individuals acting in defiance of society, for the investigation of personal hubris and the description of identity crisis, are mediated by influences which range from Kafka to Beckett, Bunyan to Joyce, Nietzsche to Stevenson, Rilke to Hogg. In his critical introduction, specially commissioned for this volume, Macdonald Daly argues that the key to understanding Herdman's work is to recognise also the colossal and ubiquitous presence of Dostoyevsky. This makes Herdman that rare creature - one whose writing of Scotland and the Scottish is refracted through the lens of the European tradition.
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11 May 2001
John Herdman has sometimes been called Scotland's answer to Dostoevsky and this book brings together the most important of his early short writings. These stories and novellas - "A Truth Lover", "Memoirs of my Aunt Minnie", "Pagan's Pilgrimage" and "Clapperton" - were first published back in the 1970s. They are the important apprentice work of a writer later responsible for two minor masterpieces, the novels IMELDA and GHOSTWRITING. (Oh and along the way Herdman wrote a pioneering critical appreciation of the songs of a certain Mr Bob Dylan - VOICE WITHOUT RESTRAINT is now, sadly, long out of print, but the word out on the street is that Dylan gave the thumbs up to a book which remains one of the very first to take him seriously as an artist.) This book also has a very good short introduction by the critic Macdonald Daly, describing Herdman's life and long writing career and supplying a useful bibliography. Herdman has never achieved the fame of other Scottish writers like James Kelman, Irvine Welsh or Iain Banks. This is probably because his heroes tend to be elderly, dignified figures who live quietly anguished lives in drably respectable surroundings. There is nothing romantic or colourful about Herdman's fictional universe - no cocaine, kinky sex, sports cars or crazed junkies and drunks whose every second word is f***, sh** or c**t. Quite often in Herdman's fiction not a lot seems to happen. The Aunt in "Memoirs of My Aunt Minnie" begins work at a hotel and becomes mysteriously pregnant. The hero of the story "Clapperton" is a typical Herdman hero. At the end of a serious of mild comic misadventures he wakes in the morning "meagrely sustained by his wretched hope...to live another day." I can see why Herdman has been compared to Dostoevsky, in so far as mental anguish and self-doubt are central themes in his writing. But unlike Dostoevsky Herdman is actually a very funny writer. The dull, genteel world of his characters often collapses comically around them. Their misadventures are told in a dry, laconic, deadpan tone that is oddly compelling. Herdman's kind of writing is not very fashionable at the present time but there is no doubt that he is a fascinating marginal figure in contemporary Scottish writing who has quietly achieved over four decades a very considerable and impressive body of work. If you've never read any Herdman this collection of his early writing is an excellent place to begin.