In Scotland, we write books with big moral purposes: Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Jekyll and Hyde, The House with the Green Shutters. Edinburgh-based writer, Alan Ness, has pulled off an unusual literary coup.
His first novel, A Man’s Game, succeeds in addressing huge ethical issues but its core story looks at our national passion, football.
It’s a book about honesty and dishonesty, hope and desperation, guilt and atonement, but football is a law unto itself. The painfully brief prologue offers the reader an expensive room, empty but for two prone bodies, one male and bloodstained, one female and holding a knife, both possibly dead. As it happens the male is (Or was?) a highly successful, professional footballer.
Ten years after the events portrayed in the prologue, the footballer’s team-mates have progressed to great things – or been relegated to the lower divisions. Ness simultaneously exposes Scottish football’s moral under-belly and grasps its energy and camaraderie as he explores the impact on those who had been in that room before the bodies fell prone and seeks to identify who in the room had done what to whom.
The second theme is journalism. Cynical hack, Jim Donnelly, gets his teeth into the events in the expensive, body-strewn room. His professional instinct tells him there’s a bigger story behind these events than has been revealed to date. He follows his instincts across Scotland, from Glasgow to Edinburgh, from Cowdenbeath to Stenhousemuir, and finds more than a seedy story.
Ness grapples with the macho culture in Scottish football, Scottish journalism – and in wider Scottish society. As the title suggests, with due irony, football is a man’s game, and so is journalism. He manages this without sounding po-faced. Indeed the book races along at a fair pace, sharp, insightful, humorous and well-informed. It even concludes with a degree of ambiguity: whose confession to the killing in the room was truthful? A Man’s Game is well worth the read for anyone interested in contemporary Scotland.
A Man’s Game, Alan Ness.
Published by Ringwood (£9.99)
The above article was first published in Lothian Life, 10 June 2016: http://www.lothianlife.co.uk/2016/06/a-mans-game/