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!