Blasts from the Past: Buddha Da by Anne Donovan (2003)

Cover image This is the latest in a series of occasional posts featuring books I read years ago about which I was wildly enthusiastic at the time, wanting to press a copy into as many hands as I could.

There was something about Buddha Da’s blurb that instantly appealed to me: ‘a working-class Glaswegian man who discovers Buddhism, rejects old habits and seeks a life more meaningful, only to alienate his immediate family in the process.’  Jimmy McKenna becomes interested in Buddhism after chatting to a monk in a Glasgow café. He’s a painter and decorator, a bit of an unlikely convert but soon he’s off on weekend retreats much to the bemusement of his family. Donovan unfolds the story from the point of view of Jimmy, his wife and their eleven-year-old daughter both of whom struggle with the concept of Jimmy’s new found fervour after years of self-professed atheism not to mention drunken high-jinks. It’s very funny but it does have serious things to say about tolerance and the way we lead our lives.

I’m sure I would have enjoyed Buddha Da for the originality of its storyline alone but what really singled it out for me was the dialect in which it’s written, nailed beautifully by Donovan. So successful was it that I found myself with a Glaswegian voice in my head for at least a week after finishing the book. Quite an achievement given that I’ve never set foot in the city. I was reminded of it after reading Helen MacKinven’s post on writing in the vernacular a few months after she published her debut, Talk of the Toun, which, as its title suggests, is written in the Ayshire dialect she grew up with. There’s a real skill to that kind of writing as anyone who’s read a cringe-makingly poor version of it will know only too well.

That’s it from me for a while. We’re off to the airport in an hour or so, on our way to Berlin from where we’ll be setting off on our train travels for a few weeks.  Happy reading!

13 thoughts on “Blasts from the Past: Buddha Da by Anne Donovan (2003)”

    1. It’s great isn’t it. Such a skill to it, too. I remember reading northern accents portrayed in nineteenth century novels that made me squirm, and I’m a southerner!

  1. Wow! What a lovely surprise to get a mention in your blog post Susan – thanks so much! That’s made my day, especially as Buddha Da is one of my all time favourite books. Enjoy your holiday.

  2. I had a similar experience recently reading a book set in an outport in Newfoundland. The dialogue was bang on, and really made the book stand out much more than it might have otherwise, I think.
    Thanks for this rec!

    1. It takes such talent and such and an ear to manage this kind of writing, I think. It’s so painful when writers attempt it and get it wrong.

  3. It’s a good idea, your Blast from the Past theme, a nice way to shine a spotlight on some old favourites. Hope you enjoy your holiday, Susan – lots to look forward to, I trust.

    1. I really enjoy writing these, remembering what it was that so captivated me about these books, and what I was doing at the time. It was a great great trip, thanks. I’ll be posting on it later in the week.

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