Tuesday, 26 October 2010
No Mean City by A. McArthur and H. Kingsley Long
DATE READ: October 2010
NOTES: I can understand the stir this book made when it was first published in 1935. For many people in Britain the desperate lives lived in the poorest parts of our cities was something best not considered. But No Mean City showed in a powerful and graphic way the violence and poverty that dominated so many lives.
It tells the story of Johnnie Stark - the eldest son of a violent father. He seeks to make his mark in the community by fighting and soon becomes accepted as the Razor King. His younger brother Peter is also ambitious and hopes for a white collar job but quickly realises that he must escape from the Gorbals. Other characters are Bobby Hurley and his girl friend Lily. They are talented ballroom dancers and find that they can earn a decent living through this and soon have moved outside the Gorbals and have their own house complete with bathroom.
No Mean City shows the depressing aspects of the lives of so many of the inhabitants. They have become an underclass with few real ambitions. Johnnie’s sole aim in life is to be admired as a hard man and a hard drinker. In this he is supported by various women who are all happy to subjugate themselves to him and accept the violence shown to them. This casual violence towards women runs through the whole book.
But escape from the slums is no easy matter. Jobs are easily lost and there is a very narrow margin between managing the weekly budget and sinking into debt.
No Mean City is not a great piece of literature but it is a valuable social document.
NB. I remember my father talking of this book. He felt that it exaggerated the picture of life in the Gorbals. (This is where he lived for much of his life before he married in 1939.) His family were the “respectable” poor – they were always in work albeit in lowly paid jobs and certainly never associated with gangs or criminals!