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Submitted Literature

Indecent Acts

By Nick Brooks

Review

Nick Brooks’ novel is the narrative of a partially-sighted, semi-literate, Glaswegian, single mother, Grace Barker, whose life has been affected by many ‘indecent acts’, both social and personal.  Set in the restricted area of Glasgow where Grace has lived her forty-something years, Brooks gives his reader a vivid experience of the infamous Drumchapel council estate.  Here, poverty, drug-dependence, alcoholism, unemployment and violence are the norm.  This sounds depressing but it is much more than that. The reader may, at times, be moved to anger at a society which forces Grace into an unstable, frightening existence; but is also likely to be hugely entertained by the narrator’s idiosyncratic and lively style.

 

Grace tells of her life in a guileless way.  She is a painfully honest narrator, taking the reader with her through the repetitive cycles of her obsessive memories.  In spite of this obvious honesty, Grace struggles to locate and understand her experiences of a life of poverty, loss and deprivation.  Her semi-literate style (there are no chapter divisions, no punctuation beyond full-stops, followed by capital letters, and some very funny misspellings and misapprehensions of vocabulary) means the reader struggles, as Grace does, to see her life clearly.  The faithfully direct transcription of the words Grace hears and speaks, unmediated by much in the way of education, puts a slight but constant obstacle in the reader’s way. This slows down the text, replicating Grace’s struggle to write, to see and to remember clearly.  The novel is a gradual revealing of events in Grace’s life as our narrator revisits, over and over again, the same frightening, partially repressed memories.  In this way, our understanding unfolds bit by bit as we come to apprehend why Grace’s life is limited in the many ways which handicap her.  As readers, we are Grace’s fellow travellers as we blunder through her world towards greater clarity and the possibility of hope.  We accompany Grace as she painfully circles and revisits the events of her life in an attempt to find some security, some stability and even, in the end, a form of redemption and hope.

 

The novel opens after a failure that we come to understand as typical.  Grace has missed her plane to the Canaries (to “port adventurer”) to visit her lost sister, Marie.  She is approached by one of the dimly-perceived social do-gooders who, like just about everyone else, is a source of fear to Grace.  Grace is accompanied by her boyfriend, Bud, who is disabled, unemployed but also entertaining and often caring.  Significantly, we know from the beginning of the novel that Grace can see very little.  What is more, she has packed her good glasses in her suitcase which has gone on the plane without her.  Grace frequently returns to this image of her lost luggage, containing her spectacles, going round and round the luggage carousel, with no-one to claim it.  This metaphor is an apt one for a woman who is lost, abandoned and forced to go round in circles both literally, because she cannot, see and mentally as she compulsively revisits painful memories in order to unearth meaning.

 

Throughout the novel, Grace communicates her fearful insecurity and her constant need to hide her poor eyesight and illiteracy from everyone.  These impairments make the world a terrifying place since she can rarely be sure of where she is and is too afraid of strangers and ashamed of her disabilities to ask for help.  She feels her employment is under continuous threat from her inability to read and write.  Grace tells herself,

 

… you are to stupid to under stand not just a foriners langwidge but even your own langwidge.

You can not speak

you can not read

you can not rite it. (p 179)

 

What is more, “To have a phone is a horror to have letters come through your door is a horror.” (p 107)  Grace has no mobile to ask for help when she is lost and frightened.  She is constantly harassed by not having enough money to catch a bus or make a call from a public phone.

 

There is no place of safety for Grace.  Nothing good has lasted in this terrible life.  Important people are lost; the security of her home is jeopardized by threatened demolition and is, in any case, not really hers: Grace frequently refers to the flat as “ours and the counsils”.  Her job as an occasionally employed carer at an institution for the elderly is intermittent.  She fears she will lose her son to the army and to death in a foreign war; her daughter is possibly dead already; and she dare not love her grandson too well in case he is taken away.  Even those men in her life who show care for her cannot, she feels, be trusted.  And who does Grace blame for all this?  She thinks she herself is at fault for not providing a better life for her family.  She believes she has failed in caring, although her narrative shows that caring has been her life’s work.

 

If this all sounds dark, it is: but there is such a spark of life and humour in Grace that the reader is drawn into caring deeply for her.  Her accounts of the support group she sometimes feels pressured to attend can make us laugh.  Grace reports how one of the group members rejects the offer of soothing by communally remembering their dead: Rory shouts, “And wolf gang amma day is motsart would of been about 2 hundred and effin 50 if hed of been alive today.  What is the point of aw this effin rubbish he says.”   Grace, of course, has too much social concern for others to voice her own lack of faith in the help on offer.

 

The narrator descends further into acute disaster as the novel progresses.  Her own actions lead her into terrible situations in an apparently downward spiral.  More and more, Grace fails to take care of herself and increasingly reveals the chaos and loss of her past as her present becomes more and more appalling.  The novel’s ending is superb.  If, like me, you have wondered how Grace has managed to put down her life-story in this lively form, the last pages of the novel come as a revelation.  Grace finds hope for the future in the most unlikely of places.

 

 

 

 

Key Themes:

  • Anxiety

Reference: Nick, Brooks. April 2014. Indecent Acts. Freight Books, Glasgow, April 2014

Reviewer

Mrs Jackie Hopson
Date Review Submitted: Tuesday 27th May 2014