A tragedy for the times

8th July 2011 at 01:00

The Boy Who Made It Rain

By Brian Conaghan

Sparkling Books, pound;9.99

4 OUT OF 5

Smart - dead smart. Not good looking in a conventional way - more like one of those Benetton models who are borderline ugly. And way too keen on debating with the English teacher about dead dull stuff.

That's Rosie Farrell's first impression of Clem Curran. She certainly doesn't fancy him like the other girls do - that would be at odds with her carefully cultivated image of "passive observer". But when they are put together for conversation in an Italian class and he introduces her to The Smiths, her opinion starts to change.

We also hear first impressions of Clem from Rosie's friend Cora (the subject of graphic graffiti in the girls' toilets), their streetwise classmate, Connor, and Ms Croall, an attractive young teacher who doesn't find his interest in debating remotely dull.

But then, if an academically gifted ex-public schoolboy from the south of England suddenly appears in sixth year at a run-down Glasgow secondary, he is bound to make an impression. Not least on the Neds - "the mad squad" from the "remdem" class who are into "happy slappin' and much worse. slashin' an' all that gang stuff".

The first part of Brian Conaghan's innovative and insightful novel is told in a wide variety of voices. And from the outset, it is clear that something grisly is going to happen. So what will it be? Perhaps Clem's relationship with Rosie will spin into a Glaswegian version of West Side Story? Or maybe he will tempt Ms Croall into gross professional misconduct? Or his insolent scorn for football and The Fratellis will lead to a bloody showdown with the Neds?

By the end of part one, all the jigsaw pieces are laid out on the table, and I won't ruin it for you by saying any more. But I couldn't wait to devour part two, when we finally hear from Clem himself. And, with horrible inevitability, the tragedy unfolds.

I would love to read this book with a group of older teenagers. It is about issues that beset every generation - misunderstandings between the sexes, between age groups, between people raised in different social environments. It is about the difficulty of holding on to one's own identity in the face of social pressures and prejudice. And it is about how all these problems are exaggerated by the consumerist culture we live in and the growing divide between rich and poor.

But anyone who does read this book with older teenagers should beware. There would almost certainly be an article in The Scotsman querying the wisdom of studying a work brimming with bad language, violence and sexual innuendo.

Still, it doesn't mean we shouldn't try. A book like this, full of subtle insights into the human condition, is a great medium for trying.

If they ever make The Boy Who Made It Rain into a film, I will rail against it - films can't do that sort of insight. Just as music (whether it is The Smiths, The Fratellis, Beethoven or Mozart) can't do reason. But a carefully crafted book, offering different perspectives, can help everyone to make more sense of other people's actions.

Indeed, if we could only teach them to read, I'm sure it would even help those poor benighted Neds.

About the Author

Brian Conaghan, a secondary teacher in Dublin, was born and educated in Lanarkshire. After working in Glasgow as a painter and decorator, he returned to Coatbridge College to take Highers, then studied theatre and film at Glasgow University. This is his first novel.

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