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Mo Said She Was Quirky Paperback – April 23, 2013

3.5 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

It isn’t often that a working woman from Glasgow is the lead character in a novel, yet that is who Booker Prize winner Kelman has chosen as his protagonist. Helen is an ordinary woman now working in a casino and living in London with her six-year-old daughter, Sophie (the only Scot in her class), and her Asian boyfriend. It’s a bone-weary existence, the implications of which are universal. A chance sighting of someone who may or may not be Helen’s estranged brother forms the foundation of the novel’s structure. Her story is made special by how we are privy to her thoughts: “Why do people have to hurt each other? Why did they not accept things, and accept each other?” By entering the mind of his character, Kelman creates a complex and compelling portrait of someone who would otherwise be invisible. One of the most compassionate of contemporary authors, Kelman also addresses such difficult issues as sexism, racism, and poverty while gradually unveiling Helen’s rich, secret emotional life. It is a marvelous achievement, restrained and deeply moving. --June Sawyers


"A marvelous achievement, restrained and deeply moving."—Booklist

"Mo said she was quirky is an unassuming book that achieves a terrible grandeur.  James Kelman gives us, in his compelling narrator Helen,  a guide through the rough life of those who live with poverty, racism, doubt, and—in spite of it all—hope.   This compassionate, humane novel comes as close to creating life—writ both large and small—as is possible in literature."—Sabina Murray, author of Tales of the New World and winner of the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction

"Mo said she was quirky is a brave, compassionate book, and Kelman is a singular and unique talent. I know of no other writer who conveys as accurately the rhythms and experience of everyday life.  This is one of his best books."—Shannon Burke, author of Black Flies

"A bracing stream-of-consciousness tale of life on London’s lower rungs from the veteran Scottish novelist and Booker Prize winner...a gritty and wise snapshot of urban life."—Kirkus

"[Helen's] perceptions are sharp, sweet, clever, mundane, startling, witty, poignant and humane – it's reminiscent of Molly Bloom's soliloquy in Ulysses, but more fun to read."—Independent (UK)

"Mo Said She Was Quirky is a powerful and understated stream of consciousness tale that explores important themes of gender, class, and race."—Largehearted Boy

"It [is] beautiful, the whole book. Helen is one woman representing so many other women..."—Paper Blog

"Virginia Woolf’s and James Joyce’s studies of characters’ inner ramblings are a Modernist artifact for plenty of writers and readers today. But for Kelman, they remain a useful way to explore the depths of people often considered outsiders."—Kirkus

"With Mo said she was Quirky, Kelman answers his character’s question: because we learn about our own life by reading about the life of others."—The Coffin Factory

"Kelman's latest novel slides easily between scene and free indirect rumination, combining ambitious psychological breadth with the necessary authorial restraint to fully inhabit the mind of Helen"—Publishers Weekly

Final exam question: Who's the best writer you’ve never heard of? It’s not James Salter any more but the Scottish author James Kelman."—On the Town

This is a fascinating character study of a Scottish woman trying to keep from drowning though she wants to give up but others depend on her so she keeps treading."—Genre Go Round Reviews

"Plunging into a novel by James Kelman is like diving head-first into a chilly lake. It's a shock to your system at first, and a bit disorienting, but the trick is to keep moving. Once your muscles get warmed up and you get your bearings, the experience is exhilarating."—The Baltimore Sun

Kelman masters poetic stream of consciousness with bleak but sometimes tender images, tugging at the bonds of blood versus the families we choose to make for ourselves. The author expertly explores how far we will go for those we love, even if they've already been lost to us for years, and what happens when the past we have run so far from seeps regardless into our present."—Interview Magazine

"...a fascinating character study..."—Midwest Book Review

here's hoping this restless and inventive novel raises [Kelman's] profile stateside."—The New York Times Book Review


Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press; Reprint edition (April 23, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590516001
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590516003
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,019,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'm a great fan of James Kelman. I've read all of his novels up to and now including this one. I'm so great a fan that, with very few misgivings, I would label him the greatest living Scottish writer, and, if pressed, go on to denominate him the greatest Scottish writer of the Twentieth Century. No other writer save Kelman - in all his previous novels, including the one set in the States,You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Free - so eloquently captures the lyrical Glaswegian dialect and sends it whirling around in fantastic stream-of-consciousness splendour into the deepest thoughts and feelings of his, to varying degrees, down-and-out characters.

But he doesn't do so in this one. Helen, our heroine, though she is a Glasgow native living in South London, speaks to herself in a dialect and tone which are neither English nor Scottish. They're jolly well American, if one can characterise them as anything, aside from a couple Scottishisms that do manage to sneak their way in, such as "fankle". She works night shift in a Casino, is a divorcée with a six year old daughter, Sophie, and is living with a Pakistani Muslim man, the "Mo" of the title. In this thin volume, we are allowed to spend a day inside the mind of Helen, from the morning she knocks off work and thinks she sees her lost brother, Brian, passing in front of the cab she is riding home in with a couple girls from the casino, to the next morning, when she does the same, with a bit of a twist at the end..
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In the small circle some call literary fiction, the role of narrator-monologist tends to be occupied by an articulate sort. It's a technique that some may find quaint. Nevertheless, when it's tried, the result can include unique psychological dimensions -- introspection, delusion, or both, for example. I'm won over when it achieves a level of poetic diction, which in most fiction is a momentary affair.

In "Mo said she was quirky," Kelman adopts this technique by deferring dialog until page 101. In those first 100 pages, he offers up a narrator-monologist who is somehow at once both ordinary (even oppressed) and, at times, penetratingly insightful. Which is to say that monologist Helen speaks colloquially, but as one whose fretful, tormented ruminations expose fault lines along gender, fortune, fate and family. What Helen narrates is often dark:

"Sad thoughts, sadness about the thoughts; the thoughts were not said in themselves, the sadness was from thinking about them, their lives, their lives were just poor, poor lives, the casino too and the people she saw and encountered day in day out, night after night after night, frittering and superficial and some horrible, just horrible, horrible people and all their horrible attitudes, going out into the night, avoiding the shadows, the back alleys and side streets, they didnt want to know about them (p. 41)."

There's a disturbing minor family mystery that begins our time inside Helen's mind, and the plot's starkness is a reminder of just how sharp ordinary -- no, rudely domestic -- pain can be. This narrator's story is a solitary one, and the reader feels somehow lonesome, too. Like a friend one cherishes but one you must muster the courage to phone, it's the time with Helen's blurted-out insights you'll find memorable. Uncomfortably so.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was very engaged by this gritty novel, one which portrays the hard scrabble life of Helen, a woman with a dark perspective on life and who is also full of ambivalence and anxiety . Clearly, those who prefer sunny books might not relate to this one. But I was glad to have had a brief glimpse into Helen's life.

The plot is revealed primarily through Helen's thoughts and random musings rather than from a rapid sequence of events. And the pace is admittedly languid. But languid is not the same as boring.

I have to admit that for the first few pages I was a bit confused by the way Helen flitted from one topic to another - her distant relationship with her mother,yearnings for her lost brother Brian, conclusions about male and female relationships. But isn't this the way many of us think? One thing reminds us of another as we progress through our day.

So I realized that Helen's varied thoughts helped flesh out her character - a concerned mother, struggling to hold her life together, and a frequent worrier. As I came to know Helen, I became involved in the book, wanting to learn more about her life. Helen might even be labeled "ordinary" and I could see how some readers would perceive her that way. But I didn't find that to be true. While Helen's view is often bleak, I rooted for her to gain strength and resilience.

Again, this isn't a suspenseful mystery or thriller and it isn't a formulaic romance. But the book is unique and for me it was captivating. I'd have given it 5 stars but I did find some parts overly detailed and other sections did drag a bit. Overall, though, it is a fine work from a talented writer.
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