‘The Fall of Kelvin Walker’ by Alasdair Gray (1985) – 144 pages
“The Fall of Kelvin Walker” is a ferociously funny novel about a young guy starting out to make his way in the world by going to London. The novel began as a play, maybe the first thing Alasdair Gray ever wrote, and he adapted it into a novella in 1985. It is supposedly based on Gray’s own experiences when he came down to London from Scotland to work on a film.
The young man Kelvin Walker has arrived in London from Scotland to get a job and conquer the world. He has no money, no experience, no education, having dropped out of school at age 15. So what qualifications does Kelvin have? He claims “Energy, intelligence, integrity”, never mind that he lied to get the interview in the first place. Kelvin has a high opinion of himself, a fact which he doesn’t hide. Naturally he gets a job right off in television as an executive. .
Some people might think that the attitude expressed in this novel is way cynical, while others like me might think it is quite reasonable and accurate as to how the world works.
“Don’t you understand, Kelvin? Haven’t you got the point? All these chairmen and directors and governors and politicians, they’re all confidence tricksters. Nobody but a fool thinks that they’re more virtuous than the rest of us, and you’ve pointed out yourself that they don’t even know more. Then why do they get up there? Because most people are so afraid of running their own lives that they feel frightened when there’s no-one to bully them. So we get a gang of bullies and tricksters ordering us about and getting very well paid for it.
First thing Kelvin meets a gal named Julie on a train in London and offers to take her out to the most expensive restaurant in London. Kelvin does not have a clue as to how expensive the restaurants can get in London, and he winds up borrowing the money from Julie to pay the bill. Then he moves in to their disheveled apartment with Julie and her boyfriend Jake, and rapidly comes between them. I suppose that is some of the Sixties ambience of the novel, because there is not much else in this novella that reminded me of the Sixties.
I do recommend this novella because of its brazen humor, However I do think it lost some of its energy in its later chapters, so my recommendation is rather soft. I still have a strong desire to read “Poor Things” by Alasdair Gray, a novel that won the Guardian Fiction Prize and the Whitbread Novel Award.