Class Act: A Review of Colin Burnett's A Working Class State of Mind...
Colin Burnett’s debut short story collection, A Working Class State of Mind, introduces a vibrant and vital voice to Scottish writing. His stories focus on a group of close-pals and casual acquaintances negotiating their lives in an Edinburgh where social and economic divisions are marked.
These stories centre around the same set of characters, including Chrissy, Aldo, Dougie, Craigy, and the people they live with and around, bringing to mind Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting (which is a similar format) but the mildly surreal imagery, and often extreme scenarios, are more reminiscent of The Acid House, the book which had the unenviable task of following Trainspotting but which contains some of Welsh's best work. Burnett has the same ability to present the lives of his characters with a dark sense of humour, one which is often used by his protagonists as a shield against what the world throws at them.
The opening story, from which the book takes its name, sets the tone with its take on the ‘Robert Bruce and the spider’ myth - the perseverance of the narrator and the spider inextricably linked. It's the perfect introduction to Burnett's writing which shows a keen ear for how people speak to each other, and to themselves.
In the stories in A Working Class State of Mind success and failure often arrive hand in hand, and coping mechanisms include pills, pubs, and piss taking. It does take time to adjust to Burnett’s Scots, but the same can be said of the first time I read Trainspotting, James Kelman's How Late it Was, How Late, and, more recently, Graeme Armstrong's The Young Team. And that is in no small part the point. It's still all too rare for Scots to read voices similar to their own and those around them.
This has been a great year for novels written in Scots, with Ely Percy's Duck Feet, Emma Grae's Be guid tae yer Mammy, and Harry Josephine Giles' verse novel Deep Wheel Orcadia being three of the finest, and A Working Class State of Mind stands shoulder to shoulder with them. Taken together they promote the diverse yet inclusive nature of Scots. Colin Burnett is not only demanding his voice is heard, but that none should be silenced or denied. There is a call for cultural legitimacy which lifts A Working Class State of Mind to another level.
A version of this review first appeared in SNACK Magazine.