Published by Ringwood
★★ (out of five)
I’M NOT a fan of sporting fiction but played the full match with Stephen O’Donnell’s Paradise Road.
The story charts several years in the life of Celtic fan Kevin McGarry, a former Airdrie youth player turned joiner.
Thankfully it’s not a tale of woe about a bitter former youth star aggrieved at not making the big time, with our protagonist rather open-minded about his failure to become a professional.
However while happy, he also feels unfulfilled, wondering if there’s more to life than living with his mum and getting drunk with his mates.
Through Kevin, O’Donnell relays some great anecdotes and experiences that Celtic fans will be able to relate to, from procuring a sought-after ticket to pre-match supporter bus banter.
Refreshingly the book doesn’t focus solely on Celtic.
It looks at the growing effect of commercialism on the game as a whole, with Kevin lamenting the passing of an era — before the sport became another form of entertainment competing for our money — when clubs valued their fans and were the centre of the community.
Our Celtic sage also shares his views on Scottish society, the media and politics with candidness, wit and phonetic Glaswegian narration.
However the narrative of the book itself is frustrating.
We jump between Kevin’s first person narrative to chapters in the third person involving seemingly unrelated characters involved in an extraneous chain of events (one chapter, for example, follows a cousin of one of Kevin’s friends working at a computer company in England, which climaxes with an X-rated encounter in the staff toilets (Fifty Shades of Green, if you will).
The flow is disjointed further with interludes — narrated in the second person — seemingly charting Kevin’s fantasies of how his life might have panned out had he succeeded as a footballer.
Although essentially Kevin’s story, many of the supporting cast aren’t fleshed out or characterised enough, remaining almost indistinct. His pals Millsy, Coyler, Orrie et al, with their varying exploits and witticisms, almost blend into one supporting character.
Like Kevin’s life, the journey along Paradise Road lacks direction, having seemingly arbitrary starting and finishing points with many things unresolved in between.
There are highlights along the way though and Kevin is an entertaining host on the journey — with the character (and author) from the same generation as myself, it was refreshing to reminisce about Celtic teams, good and bad, from my own lifetime rather than a sycophantic piece heaping praise, albeit deserving, on the legendary Lisbon Lions of 1967.
But while this read is an entertaining trip, it’s not a road to tread over and over again.