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Mo Said She Was Quirky [Paperback]

James Kelman
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 23, 2013
James Kelman, the Man Booker Prize–winning author of How Late It Was, How Late, tells the story of Helen—a sister, a mother, a daughter—a very ordinary young woman. Her boyfriend said she was quirky but she is much more than that. Trust, love, relationships; parents, children, lovers; death, wealth, home: these are the ordinary parts of the everyday that become extraordinary when you think of them as Helen does, each waking hour. Mo Said She Was Quirky begins on Helen’s way home from work, with the strangest of moments when a skinny, down-at-heel man crosses the road in front of her and appears to be her lost brother. What follows is an inspired and absorbing story of twenty-four hours in the life of a young woman.

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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: 8.2 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #806,625 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Day In The Life February 28, 2013
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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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bittersweet Monologist Morsels March 9, 2013
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars helen, mo, and sophie April 15, 2013
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
this is a character story of helen, the single mother of a six-year-old daughter, sophie, and mo, helen's pakistani boyfriend, together they share a one-room apartment in london. helen works as a dealer in a casino. the story is told in a stream of consciousness style; critics are comparing kelman's style to the works of james joyce and virginia woolf. i find his style in this novel closer to the influences of samuel beckett and joseph heller's Something Happened.

the story spools from helen's interior monologue, her worries and fears and memories, and observations of her claustrophobic environment, occurring during one day, the day she is on her way home from work in a taxi with two of her co-workers, when two men right out of beckett's fictions cross the street against the traffic, one of them looks like helen's brother, brian.

kelman does an excellent job maintaining a twin tension of keeping the reader wondering what happened in helen's past and what will happen in her future.

but there's not much going on in helen's life, which makes her a dull character, and were it not for kelman's reputation and the affection for him from the man booker group, at numerous points along the story i would have put the book down. i recommend this book to speed readers, and if, like me, you're not a speed reader, i suggest you read the story as quickly as possible; kelman's writing skills are rewarding and, perhaps, revealing of truths on their own merits.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stream of consciousness character study March 20, 2013
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars No Quirk, Just Boredom
I always finish any book I start, and almost always can find at least something redeeming about it; either the writing style, interesting characterization, something. Not so here. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Lauri Crumley Coates
1.0 out of 5 stars A Mentally, Emotional Whirlwind
Have you ever been in a crisis or an intent emotional situation where your mind refuses to focus on the problem at hand but rather flits all around not focusing on anything for... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Editor of Lillian's Diaries
5.0 out of 5 stars I Enjoyed the Style of This Book
I was drawn to this book because of the simple and expressive title. It is intriguing because it addresses a main character who is not named but is, instead, described by a third... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Ashley Mott
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for me
Stream of consciousness is not for me, especially when I hate the character whose consciousness is streaming. This book just wasn't my thing.
Published 12 months ago by brian d foy
4.0 out of 5 stars Through new eyes
Stream of consciousness is an effective literary device for drawing a new perspective. James Kelman uses the technique effectively to bring us into the world oh Helen, a young... Read more
Published 13 months ago by E. Swope
4.0 out of 5 stars I know quirky
Reading Helen's flowing thoughts gave me a respite from my own. James Kelman has written a novel, Mo Said She Was Quirky, which took me longer to read because of the intensity of... Read more
Published 13 months ago by zhabazon
3.0 out of 5 stars Temporary review
It was interestimg to read the internal uncensored process of daily thoughts, which i have always mRveled at myself, but suddenly it got boring this eternal chit chat so i am... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Cecilia
4.0 out of 5 stars Mo Said She Was Quirky
"Mo Said She Was Quirky" is written in sort of a stream-of-conscious style. Stream-of-conscience has always been difficult for me to follow, distracting. Read more
Published 14 months ago by April Blake
1.0 out of 5 stars Hoped for more.
Couldn't get into it. And I pride myself on finishing everything and giving each book a chance. But it never happened for me in this book. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Tonya Speelman
5.0 out of 5 stars Vintage Kelman
Jim Kelman is not for everyone. But if you enjoy prose that makes you think, perspectives that challenge, and a stream-of-consciousness flow, you will enjoy Kelman. Read more
Published 15 months ago by S. G.
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