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Kelman, James

kafka patrick teacher short

(British, 1946– )

Born in Glasgow, Kelman left school at 15 and after labouring jobs and a stint as a bus conductor, entered the University of Strathclyde at the age of 28. His writing derives from both a Scottish and a European tradition, and has been compared to that of Zola, Dostoevsky, and Kafka for its portrayal of people in socially alienated situations. His characters tend to be working class, but in A Disaffection (1989) the central character is Patrick, a teacher. Patrick wants to leave teaching because he no longer believes in conventional education. His life is further complicated by his unrequited love for a fellow teacher, Alison. How Late It Was, How Late, which won the Booker Prize in 1994, depicts the attempts of Sammy to come to terms with the blindness which has overcome him as the result of a beating in a police cell. He has also lost his girlfriend and the work he was trying to fix up with a friend. From this unpromising material, Kelman makes a paean to the survival of the human spirit. Kelman is an uncompromising writer, whose work ranges between political rage and a tender lyricism, between social realism, surrealism, and a kind of dark burlesque. For virtuosity, try the short stories in Greyhound for Breakfast (1987).

Samuel Beckett, Alasdair Gray, Franz Kafka. See SHORT STORIES  LM

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