Book review: Dirt Road – James Kelman (Canongate)

The set-up: 16 year-old Murdo and his father travel to the American south to stay with relatives. The pair have struggled since the deaths of both Murdo’s mother and sister Eilidh from cancer. It isn’t long before Murdo’s skill on the accordion is noticed by the locals and he receives the offer of a lifetime.


The review: If you’ve read Kelman before, you know what you’re getting with ‘Dirt Road’:

  • exceptional character study
  • fluid changes between narration, character’s thoughts and dialogue
  • focus on character rather than plot

Murdo is such an interesting narrator and Kelman is excellent at choosing the brief moments of self-realisation where Murdo realises why he’s making certain choices. Yes, it’s a slow-burner, and you probably won’t speed through it. To be savoured, for sure. The most surprising thing, for me, was the ending, which seemed to favour optimism over realism. Not something I expected from Kelman!


The verdict: Highly recommended (for Kelman fans).




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