Review: A Lean Third by James Kelman

A Lean Third is the latest collection of short stories from acclaimed Glaswegian novelist James Kelman. It comprises stories originally published in 1985’s Lean Tales alongside the work of Alasdair Gray and Agnes Owens, the the majority of which have been substantially reworked here. The collection has been released and beautifully hand-bound by Tangerine Press, and appears to intended as something of a collectors item for Kelman fans and scholars, and features an enlightening 3000 word afterword by the author that details the the background of the stories written especially for this edition.

The result is something of a bittersweet success. Kelman’s reworked stories are an outstanding addition to an already stunning body of work. Kelman’s writings have always stood out for the way in which they are able to illuminate the lives of those living on ‘edge’ of society, and A Lean Third continues this. The collection includes tales of homelessness and hard labour, gambling and fleeing debt. In some ways Kelman’s writings here echo the Orwell of Down and Out in Paris and London. Kelman though is of a different breed to Orwell, identifying himself more with the existentialist tradition of Franz Kafka. This approach can be seen most famously in his 1994 Booker prize winning How late it was, how late, and is also present here. The result is brilliant and essential.

The only downside then is that this edition is receiving such a limited release. Just 100 copies are being released, signed by Kelman and available for £30/£50. While these editions are undoubtedly special, hopefully a positive response might encourage wider release.

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