A. L. Kennedy Criticism - Essay

Kathleen Jamie (review date 5 April 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Jamie, Kathleen. Review of Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains, by A. L. Kennedy. Times Literary Supplement, no. 4592 (5 April 1991): 27.

[In the following review, Jamie commends Kennedy's compassion and tenderness in Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains but argues that the stories are too repetitive in theme and weighed down by depressing plots.]

This stylish-looking paperback from Polygon confirms the publisher's house-style and content: a city-based Scottishness with little room for magic. A. L. Kennedy's collection of short stories [Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains] hangs together well, too well perhaps. The blurb calls...

(The entire section is 473 words.)

Judy Cooke (review date 19 February 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cooke, Judy. “Pain Control.” New Statesman and Society 6, no. 240 (19 February 1993): 40-1.

[In the following review, Cooke praises Kennedy's nontraditional prose style in Looking for the Possible Dance, commenting that the work stands out as a first novel due to “the quality of its writing from page to page.”]

“Could I have a coffee and a wee cup of paraquat?” asks Margaret, whose boss is beginning to get on her nerves. The offer of “a Penguin on the house” isn't much of a comfort, except to the reader, who by now will have the measure of Kennedy's sharp, quirky prose. Her Glaswegian humour—reminiscent of James Kelman's short...

(The entire section is 555 words.)

Lavinia Greenlaw (review date 5 March 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Greenlaw, Lavinia. “Connecting at Glasgow.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4692 (5 March 1993): 20.

[In the following review, Greenlaw compliments Kennedy for her non-linear storytelling skills and her decision to leave the conclusion ambiguous in Looking for the Possible Dance.]

The first novel by the award-winning Scottish writer A. L. Kennedy [Looking for the Possible Dance] is ostensibly a simple story of leaving home. The narrative is threaded around the journey of Margaret Hamilton from Glasgow to London. She is leaving, but she has left before. She will probably come back. As she travels south, the events that led to her sudden departure are...

(The entire section is 582 words.)

Julian Loose (review date 8 July 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Loose, Julian. “Glasgow über Alles.” London Review of Books 15, no. 13 (8 July 1993): 18.

[In the following excerpt, Loose comments that the ultra-violent and bizarre death of Colin in Looking for the Possible Dance is a jarring departure from the rest of the volume's understated prose style.]

This sense of a city crowded with narratives is echoed in A. L. Kennedy's short story “The Role of Notable Silences in Scottish History”, where she describes walking through Glasgow as ‘strolling across a book, something big and Victorian with plenty of plots. It makes you wonder who's reading you.’ By contrast, Kennedy's own fiction is intimate in...

(The entire section is 822 words.)

Kirsty Milne (review date 11 February 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Milne, Kirsty. “Mind Games.” New Statesman and Society 7, no. 289 (11 February 1994): 39-40.

[In the following review, Milne lauds Kennedy's continued expertise at crafting confident short fiction but criticizes the more experimental stories in Now That You're Back.]

The young Scots writer A L Kennedy comes trailing clouds of dangerous eulogy. Her first collection of stories, published by Polygon in 1990, revealed an accomplished writer always one step ahead of her reader's expectations. Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains—a title so intriguing as to prompt on-the-spot purchase—proved worth buying for the cool conviction of Kennedy's prose....

(The entire section is 488 words.)

Andrea Ashworth (review date 25 February 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ashworth, Andrea. “Between the Perverse and the Proper.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4743 (25 February 1994): 19.

[In the following review, Ashworth maintains that Kennedy illuminates common human experiences in Now That You're Back through her introspective and deft characterizations.]

Like the telepathic heroine of “Christine”, A. L. Kennedy has a gift for getting inside people's heads. Following her first novel, Looking for the Possible Dance, this new collection of stories, Now That You're Back, dips once more into little lives brimming with big thoughts.

Kennedy's characters are studies in eccentricity and...

(The entire section is 826 words.)

Alex Clark (review date 12 May 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Clark, Alex. “Jennifer's Song.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4806 (12 May 1995): 20.

[In the following review, Clark contends that So I Am Glad further illustrates Kennedy's imaginative and inventive writing style.]

Jennifer Wilson is a woman in her mid-thirties, living in Scotland. Her life is a peculiar but familiar mixture of over-control and massive hidden trauma. She has spent a childhood in isolation with her parents, her loneliness made worse by their particular form of abuse—they forced her to be a voyeur to their sex life—from which she has only been released by their deaths in a car crash. Her strategy for survival since then has been...

(The entire section is 937 words.)

Sarah A. Smith (review date 26 May 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Smith, Sarah A. “A Nose for Injustice.” New Statesman and Society 8, no. 354 (26 May 1995): 25.

[In the following review, Smith comments that, despite her initial trepidation about reviewing a “second novel,” So I Am Glad successfully balances wry social commentary with a well developed plot.]

Second novels are, by tradition, difficult to write and disappointing to read. I cannot comment upon the first part of this maxim, but A L Kennedy has destroyed the remainder with a vengeance. So I Am Glad is funny, strange, and almost entirely wonderful. The novel takes the form of a memoir: Jennifer Wilson's recollections of 1993 and 1994, with...

(The entire section is 524 words.)

Dinah Birch (review date 3 August 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Birch, Dinah. “Warming My Hands and Telling Lies.” London Review of Books 17, no. 15 (3 August 1995): 17.

[In the following review, Birch explores recurring thematic motifs in Kennedy's writing and offers a positive assessment of the optimistic and hopeful ending of So I Am Glad.]

One of the most convincing inclusions in Granta's list of the 20 best young British novelists, A. L. Kennedy, has composed a distinctive voice out of youth and national identity. She was born in Dundee, and now lives in Glasgow; Scottishness informs her fiction. This is partly a matter of a characteristic introspection, the tradition of spiritual autobiography that generated the...

(The entire section is 2464 words.)

Amanda Craig (review date 10 January 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Craig, Amanda. “Passion & Physics.” New Statesman 10, no. 435 (10 January 1997): 47.

[In the following excerpt, Craig presents a favorable assessment of Kennedy's subtle and effective prose in Original Bliss, commenting that it “is regrettable that Kennedy will probably be read solely by women.”]

Anyone who reads fiction knows there is a male canon and a female one. Perhaps the present-day preference for Amis or Atwood is simply a matter of temperament, or perhaps it goes back to Richardson and Fielding and the masculine assertion for sense over sensibility. Yet the true reader, like the true writer, is concerned with more than gender; and to...

(The entire section is 435 words.)

Teresa Waugh (review date 18 January 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Waugh, Teresa. “This Small Masterpiece.” Spectator 278, no. 8790 (18 January 1997): 35-6.

[In the following review, Waugh observes that several of the short stories in Original Bliss are strangely disjointed and forgettable but maintains that the title story is extremely emotional and masterfully written.]

Perhaps it has something to do with the time of year, with the crippling cold and all those horrible germs flying about, but it seems hard to concentrate on some of A. L. Kennedy's stories in her new collection, Original Bliss. You're not always sure where you are—or why you're there; there is even an unreal quality about the characters...

(The entire section is 695 words.)

Toby Mundy (review date 24 May 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Mundy, Toby. “Novel of the Week.” New Statesman 128, no. 4437 (24 May 1999): 49.

[In the following review, Mundy notes the boldness of the content and prose in Everything You Need but argues that the novel's dreariness weighs down the story's plot.]

Nathan Staples is a successful writer of gory splatter novels. He is also possessed of a powerful impulse to self-mutilation and suicide, as his mind spends its days circling “the shameful hollow of himself”. For the last few years, Nathan has lived on Foal Island, a writer's colony and religious retreat off the Welsh coast. He is tortured by the departure of his wife and young daughter 15 years...

(The entire section is 1080 words.)

Katie Grant (review date 29 May 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Grant, Katie. “More Four-Letter Words Than You Need.” Spectator 282, no. 8912 (29 May 1999): 40-1.

[In the following review, Grant asserts that Kennedy discusses a variety of important topics in Everything You Need but stresses that Kennedy needs to further develop plot tangents and write in one clear literary style.]

Finish your breakfast before reading this.

Things could be worse … stapling my scrotum to the flesh of my inner thighs and then performing Scottish country dances until I feel my socks congeal. I think that would be worse.

Thus we are plunged into the tangled and...

(The entire section is 730 words.)

Eamonn Wall (review date fall 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wall, Eamonn. Review of Original Bliss, by A. L. Kennedy. Review of Contemporary Fiction 19, no. 3 (fall 1999): 161-62.

[In the following review, Wall offers a positive assessment of Kennedy's “richly understated and beautifully plotted” narrative in Original Bliss.]

Original Bliss, a strange and unpredictable novel, explores and uncovers the various levels of abuse which Helen Brindle has been subjected to throughout her life, and moves toward a surprising salvation. As a result of a strict religious upbringing and involvement in an unsatisfactory marriage to a cold and abusive man, she is emotionally crippled. Her life changes after seeing...

(The entire section is 309 words.)

Frances Lannon (review date 21 January 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lannon, Frances. “Taking the Bull by the Horns—and the Camera.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5051 (21 January 2000): 10-11.

[In the following excerpt, Lannon characterizes Kennedy's depiction of the sport of bullfighting in On Bullfighting as respectful and illuminating.]

A. L. Kennedy attended several bullfights in Madrid and Seville when she was researching On Bullfighting. She took a notebook, binoculars and two cameras, fieldwork equipment that amused her neighbours in the stands, who felt no need of pen or lens to identify and understand what they were witnessing. When the fourth bull of the first corrida she attended tosses Otto...

(The entire section is 672 words.)

Lorna Scott Fox (review date 20 July 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Fox, Lorna Scott. “A Fine Time Together.” London Review of Books 22, no. 14 (20 July 2000): 37-9.

[In the following review, Fox provides information on the history of bullfighting and offers a critique of On Bullfighting, arguing that Kennedy's recollections of her personal and emotional turmoils detract from the work.]

Most people who are obsessive animal-lovers as children grow out of it. I didn't. I still feel a helpless identification with most of them, and the scene in Apocalypse Now in which scurrying specks are bombed from helicopters simply made it harder for me to step on ants. So I find it difficult to justify my liking for the...

(The entire section is 2755 words.)

Sarah M. Dunnigan (essay date 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Dunnigan, Sarah M. “A. L. Kennedy's Longer Fiction: Articulate Grace.” In Contemporary Scottish Women Writers, edited by Aileen Christianson and Alison Lumsden, pp. 144-55. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 2000.

[In the following essay, Dunnigan traces the recurring themes of sexuality, abusive relationships, and the quest for love in Looking for the Possible Dance, So I Am Glad, Original Bliss, and Everything You Need.]

Alison Louise Kennedy (b. 1965) is an elusive rather than an evasive writer; elusive in her refusal to be pinned down to any literary ‘philosophy’ or credo of gender or nationalism, not evasive because she states...

(The entire section is 5746 words.)

Alison Lumsden (essay date 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lumsden, Alison. “Scottish Women's Short Stories: ‘Repositories of Life Swiftly Apprehended.’” In Contemporary Scottish Women Writers, edited by Aileen Christianson and Alison Lumsden, pp. 156-69. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 2000.

[In the following excerpt, Lumsden examines how Kennedy explores issues of both gender and Scottish national identity in her short fiction.]

In a recent introduction to the Macallan/Scotland on Sunday collection Shorts, Candia McWilliam writes:

Short stories are a disputed phenomenon. Are they harder, or easier, to write than novels, writers are asked, as...

(The entire section is 2253 words.)

Michael Smith (review date 20 January 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Smith, Michael. “The Psychology of the Bull Fight.” Lancet 357, no. 9251 (20 January 2001): 239.

[In the following review, Smith praises Kennedy's critical examination of life, death, and bravado in On Bullfighting.]

The modest title of this book is misleading. A L Kennedy certainly writes compellingly “on bullfighting”, but her book is also about passion, risk, depression, and suicide—not least the contemplated death of the author herself.

Before beginning this commission, Alison Kennedy dangled her bare feet over the window-ledge of her fourth-floor Glasgow tenement, planning her death. It was, she remembers, a “vaguely peaceful...

(The entire section is 982 words.)

Pamela Petro (review date July 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Petro, Pamela. “School of Wales.” Women's Review of Books 18, nos. 10-11 (July 2001): 30.

[In the following review, Petro compliments both the main storyline and the peripheral stories of the supporting characters in Everything You Need.]

As its title suggests, Everything You Need strives to be an all-encompassing book: a big, exhaustive, no-stone-unturned examination of the tidal rhythms of romantic and familial love, of professional accomplishment, self-respect and life passing into death and flowing back as memory. And for the most part, Scottish writer A. L. Kennedy's latest work of fiction, her third, succeeds magnificently. Her last novel,...

(The entire section is 678 words.)

Ron Charles (review date 19 July 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Charles, Ron. “No Man—or Writer—Is an Island.” Christian Science Monitor 93, no. 164 (19 July 2001): 18-19.

[In the following review, Charles commends the adept symmetry of delicacy and harshness in Everything You Need.]

How quietly, how quickly A. L. Kennedy has taken a place in the pantheon of contemporary novelists. In America, she remains something of a treasured secret, but in Britain, this 36-year-old Scottish woman has already racked up a half dozen impressive awards. She's even served as a juror for the Booker Prize.

Her latest novel, Everything You Need, is unlikely to change her position on this side of the Atlantic....

(The entire section is 836 words.)

A. L. Kennedy and Yvonne Nolan (interview date 23 July 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kennedy, A. L., and Yvonne Nolan. “A Dream Not Her Own.” Publishers Weekly 248, no. 30 (23 July 2001): 43, 46.

[In the following interview, Kennedy discusses her writing career, her love of the theatre, the meaninglessness of literary prizes, and the perils of the writing profession.]

The taxi driver says that the West End of Glasgow is where people with money live. It's the gracious-living part of Glasgow. You'll find the University there, the glass domes of the Botanic Gardens, restaurants where the Parmesan comes in shavings, not powder. Graceful, sun-dappled Victorian terraces hewn from Scottish sandstone line the tree-shaded streets. It's a world away...

(The entire section is 2201 words.)

Val McDermid (review date 26 August 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: McDermid, Val. “The Sorcerer's Apprentice.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (26 August 2001): 5.

[In the following review, McDermid contends that Kennedy's masterful narrative abilities in Everything You Need allow readers to overlook the novel's lapses of plausibility and uncertain ending.]

Nathan Staples is a best-selling author of Gothic horror novels. He lives in virtual exile on an island with half a dozen other writers, each of whom is about as socially adept as a porcupine. Nathan is consumed by equal measures of self-loathing, anger and recrimination. But it wasn't always this way. Once, Nathan had a promising career as a literary novelist. He...

(The entire section is 1227 words.)

Mona Knapp (review date spring 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Knapp, Mona. Review of Everything You Need, by A. L. Kennedy. World Literature Today 76, no. 2 (spring 2002): 151.

[In the following review, Knapp criticizes the improbable plot elements and Kennedy's overuse of profanity in Everything You Need.]

Nathan Staples is a successful novelist who lives on a coastal island in permanent retreat from the world. Unfortunately, there is no fleeing his tormented inner world, lavishly displayed over the course of 500 pages [in Everything You Need], a world driven by biting remorse, self-condemnation, and graphic plans for suicide. Why the desperation? Nathan is still in love with his former wife, Maura, who...

(The entire section is 546 words.)

Hadley Freeman (review date 24 November 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Freeman, Hadley. “She's Donne It Again.” Observer (24 November 2002): 17.

[In the following review, Freeman enthusiastically praises Kennedy's descriptive and precise language in the short stories in Indelible Acts.]

It is, in all honesty, something of a relief to see A. L. Kennedy's name on the front of a collection of short stories as opposed to the handspan-sized novels which she has been thumping out. Kennedy's is a very concentrated prose: multiple connotations are compressed into every sentence, every description, without any dilution. But like a gourmet cake, it's impossible to digest portions any larger than a vignette slice without incurring a very...

(The entire section is 445 words.)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 May 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of Indelible Acts, by A. L. Kennedy. Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 9 (1 May 2003): 631-32.

[In the following review, the critic compliments Kennedy on her well-drawn characterizations in Indelible Acts.]

The complications of loving and the pains of estrangement are explored with restrained wit and emotion in this new collection [Indelible Acts] from the prizewinning Scottish author (Everything You Need, 2001, etc.).

The weakest of these dozen stories are generally those that don't develop beyond core expressions of longing, regret, or resentment. “Not Anything to Do with Love,” for example, though beautifully written,...

(The entire section is 335 words.)