Todd McEwen’s first novel revealed how horrible Boston is. His second, McX, tells us how depressing it is to be Scottish. McEwen, an American, has also travelled in the Soviet Union and Holland, so it may be that we can expect future bulletins on the forlorn condition of the Russian soul and the tedium of being Dutch. If so, I shall be among his readers, for the theme of Caledonian gloom can rarely have been treated with such wit and casual brilliance as here. ‘Scots in the sun’ thunders McEwen ‘what need to brown yourselves? You’ll be roasting in Hell soon enough’. Yes, that has the authentic ring.
Paperback and American rights long-sold, McEwen’s publishers are already trumpeting McX as the new Confederacy of Dunces, a book to which it bears remarkably little resemblance. For example, although I was barking mad at the time of reading it, I am pretty sure that Toole’s opus was strong on plot, a feature of which McX is almost wholly innocent, what narrative there is being yoked together out of a series of inconsequential encounters and weaving eccentrically like a baffled drunk nursing some deep and obscure sense of grievance. In this it is perhaps notably Scottish.
There are two Scotlands in McX: one a fetid paludinous place awash with beer swill and eviscerated crisp packets, the other an imaginary country of romance, gloaming, betrayal. McX himself could be McAnybody, an inspector of Weights and Measures, hunched like a dromedary, a man with a jest and an