Read as part of CBR11 Bingo: First in a series.
This is perhaps the best 3-star book I’ve ever read.
A quick explanation of my star system: 5 I give out semi-frequently to books I genuinely consider to be great. I’m not snobby with it, plenty of 5 star books are better than others but it’s my ratings system and I can do what I want. 4 is my most frequently distributed number, that’s for books that simply rise to the level of good. 3 is for books that are competent or perhaps almost good but fatally flawed. 2 is terrible. 1 is unreadable.
Laidlaw should be a 4-star read. I liked large parts of it. I loved the titular character; I found I could relate to him a lot in terms of our respective worldview. I enjoyed the atmosphere of 70s Glasgow; well-described without being gratuitous (::cough cough:: Bloody January, an ersatz version of this that I now want to go back and take away a star). I liked how William McIlvanney took a broad view of all the characters.
But there are two main problems with this book. They’re big ones and I can’t get over them…
1. The chapter-by-chapter shifting narrative made it tough to appreciate the story. I would get invested in one character and then immediately be jerked to another and have to reorient myself. Plus, there’s no indication as to whose perspective you are gleaning from in the beginning of the chapter, which leads the reader to have to figure it out. Not my favorite storytelling device.
2. The sexual politics of this would be considered progressive for its era. But it’s not the 1970s. And considering how brutal the world still is against women and LGBTQIA+ folk…well my threshold is much lower than it used to be. I can overlook it sometimes. I couldn’t here. I’ve just seen the “tragic” plot points of being a woman or gay person too many times. It’s an exhausting repetition of the cishet patriarchy, no matter how good the writer’s intentions are.
It really feels unfair to dock it a star for these issues when I’ve liked other books that have similar ones. But I give out too many 4-stars. Still, I want to read the rest of the series. I loved Laidlaw the character. I wish the book had focused on him alone.