March 03, 2008

The Glasgow Book: Fat Boy Swim

Jimmy Kelly isn't just overweight -- he's what they call morbidly obese, and his ponderous weight makes people stop, nudge the person next to them, and flat-out stare. School is a friendless hell where Jimmy avoids the washroom -- which is monitored by thugs -- and also avoids the football pitch, where the sadistic coach makes him the butt of vicious jokes in front of the whole team. Home is the only place where Jimmy has any peace -- in the kitchen, that is, where he concocts gorgeous meals, mouthwatering cakes, the toothsome Glaswegian fudge, tablet, and the rest of the delicacies that fill up his empty places. Outside of the kitchen are the nightmares that haunt him, and the dreams he has of drowning...

But in the kitchen, Aunt Pol adores Jimmy, and his epicurean skills, even as she seems to wonder where they comes from. His father ignored him until he died of cancer, but his mother loves him, in her own nagging, worrying way. She protects him from everything -- tears up the diets that the doctors give him, and tries her best to make sure he's utterly, blissfully, perfectly happy.

Too bad she can't control how the world responds to a fat kid.

When G.I. Joe comes to town, the steely eyed priest-turned-coach, everything in Jimmy's world shifts. School is less safe than before, and even his magic in the kitchen can't set everything to rights at the end of the day. Who is this priest guy, anyway, and why does he want to help Jimmy? It seems like it's something more than in return for him cooking for a fund raiser; there's something Holy Joe isn't telling him. And why is Victor, the lead bully, becoming worse than before? What's up with Aunt Pol and Mom, getting all upset about the priest just teaching him to swim? Why is everybody acting so crazy?

An engaging, realistic novel of sadness and hope and the magic of someone believing the best of you, Fat Boy Swim is an engaging novel with plenty of Glaswegian slang. The novel ends happily, but not all of the strings are neatly tied - fortunately. The pace speeds up considerably after Jim learns to swim, and is almost unbelievably quick, and some readers may honestly struggle with the Scottish slang, but it's a wry, funny, delightful book to read.

2 comments:

a. fortis said...

Sounds like a good one! I can't imagine the slang is more difficult than in Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting...

sanjana said...

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