Disappointing use of obvious talent
I wanted to like this book, I really did. Escobar Walker is a very, very good writer with a massive talent for observation and for conveying those characteristic traits of people that make them so individual and entertaining. This is the kind of skill that has given people like Billy Connolly a long career and makes for a potentially great writer. Unfortunately Walker isn’t making the best of his considerable writing skill or his capacity for characterisation and cutting humour.
For me, Bowling Ball was one long exercise in relaying as many Scottish clichés as possible in 90,000 words. All the main characters speak with one voice, in that they’re almost indiscernible from each other, blending in to one long narrative throughout the book. To identify each character Walker uses the phrase “my cousin’s flatmate”, or a version of it dozens of times throughout, which is, I suppose, a clumsy way of letting the reader know which character is narrating but becomes annoying as the book progresses. Much simpler to give each character a distinct personality and voice or even stick the character name at the chapter heading.
Every character encountered was either a Frances Begbie (violent Neanderthal) derivative or a victim. None of the characters developed at all during their stories, and if being completely honest, the book didn’t really have a definite plot. This isn’t always a huge problem (see Trainspotting) if the characters have an interesting journey, but the characters Walker has created aren’t allowed any growth and are very much trapped and stunted by the stereotypical values, attitudes and traits that Escobar has saddled them with. Really, the image of Scots as a nation of violent, drunken, drugged up wife-beaters and hoors has been done to death and I was hoping for something a little more intelligent from a writer as good as Escobar. In many ways the image presented in Bowling Ball of the people in its pages reads like it was written by someone who has a trace of knowledge of the area and its people and has just taken all the most spiteful and reprehensible actions and characteristics to drive forward a very wearing and very negative, but often very funny story. This showed in the inconsistencies in the characters regional dialect, often mixing Edinburgh-isms which Glasgow patter. For me this was lazy and added to the obviousness of the plot and characters of the book.
I was incredibly frustrated reading this book because the writer could be an exceptional talent, but must plot an engaging story and populate it with believable and engaging characters who are allowed to behave badly, show moments of humanity in amongst the filth and most importantly to grow as the story progresses.
I will read the next book in the series, because Escobar has me invested in where these people will go despite making them predictable and dull; his writing is that good. Bowling Ball is a debut novel and is entertaining at points, I’ve certainly read debut novels that haven’t been anywhere near as good as Bowling Ball. The writer will have developed considerably in the process of writing it and with that in mind I’d love to see Walker stretch his legs and push himself to construct a story that displays how talented he really is and will follow his writing career and his development in future.
Bowling Ball is available Here.