Sunday, 8 November 2015

Blog Tour Book Review - 'Talk of the Toun' by Helen MacKinven.

‘She was greetin’ again. But there’s no need for Lorraine to be feart, since the first day of primary school, Angela has always been there to mop up her tears and snotters.’ An uplifting black comedy of love, family life and friendship, Talk of the Toun is a bittersweet coming-of-age tale set in the summer of 1985, in working class, central belt Scotland. Lifelong friends Angela and Lorraine are two very different girls, with a growing divide in their aspirations and ambitions putting their friendship under increasing strain. Artistically gifted Angela has her sights set on art school, but lassies like Angela, from a small town council scheme, are expected to settle for a nice wee secretarial job at the local factory. Her only ally is her gallus gran, Senga, the pet psychic, who firmly believes that her granddaughter can be whatever she wants. Though Lorraine’s ambitions are focused closer to home Angela has plans for her too, and a caravan holiday to Filey with Angela’s family tests the dynamics of their relationship and has lifelong consequences for them both. Effortlessly capturing the religious and social intricacies of 1980's Scotland, Talk of the Toun is the perfect mix of pathos and humour as the two girls wrestle with the complications of growing up and exploring who they really are.


Talk of the Toun is the debut novel by Scottish author Helen MacKinven, that invites us into the world of teenage pals Angela and Lorraine in 1980s Scotland. I was surprised to learn that this was a debut novel, as it did not read that way to me. Once I got into the swing of the dialect and slang (I did live in Scotland for a while so this probably helped), I was happily reading in a Scottish accent in my head. The girls are life-long friends and seemingly inseparable, but we meet them in a turbulent time on the brink of adulthood, where the differences in their personalities become more pronounced and challenging to their friendship. Angela is from a very 'normal' working class home, with parents who cannot understand why she would want to go to art college instead of getting a real job. Her pal Lorraine is from a much wealthier background, but she has a severely disabled sister and religious fanatic for a mother. Both of the main characters are hard to like, as most selfish teenagers probably are, but despite their flaws I couldn't help empathise with them both. I was a similar age in the 1980s so I was going through similar trials to the girls. Angela is really awful - loud, greedy, bullying and selfish - but she is also hilarious and really she is a good person. The tender moments she shares with her Gran (a pet-psychic) and the kindness she shows to Lorraine's disabled sister redeem her. This was an excellent read, full of wonderful characters. I cannot remember the last time I read a book under the covers at night, but I enjoyed this so much I couldn't wait to get to the end. It is quite vulgar and shocking in parts, but this just made it more gritty and real for me. There was much laughter and a couple of tears too. I hope that MacKinven doesn't wait too long to follow up this wonderful debut.


Helen MacKinven writes contemporary Scottish fiction, with a particular interest in exploring themes such as social class and identity, using black comedy and featuring Scots dialect. She graduated with merit from Stirling University with an MLitt in Creative Writing in 2012. In her day job Helen MacKinven works with numbers, travelling all over Scotland to deliver teacher training in maths. By night, she plays with words writing short stories and developing ideas for her next novel. Helen's short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies and literary journals, such as Gutter magazine. Originally from the Falkirk area, Helen now lives in a small rural village in North Lanarkshire with her husband. She has two grownup sons but has filled her empty nest with two dogs, two pygmy goats and an ever-changing number of chickens. 

Talk of the Toun is published by ThunderPoint Publishing and is available in paperback and ebook format.  You can order your copy via amazon link below:

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