Do you want to know what the world is like for many young Scots in 2014? If you do, then "Shop Front" by Samuel Best is a pretty good place to start. Samuel Best's first novel is a humourous, human and at times darkly gritty story of the efforts of one young man to make something of his life. It also "feels" exactly right. The characters ring true and the dialogue is exactly what you'd expect to hear on the top floor of any bus in central Scotland.
The story revolves around Ben Hamilton. He has graduated from university in Glasgow with a degree in English, only to be confronted by the uncomfortable fact that his qualification is a lot less use in finding a good job than he was led to expect it would be. With little option, he returns to live with his gently middle class parents in Linlithgow; and with even less option, he takes the only job he can find, stacking shelves in his local Asda. Here he becomes involved with a group of friends whose consumption of alcohol in Linlithgow's pubs seems to soak up much of their income, and he also becomes involved in a dangerous feud that has already seen knives drawn, and moves on to worse. The account of working life, or perhaps that should be of life avoiding the attentions of the boss and actual work whenever possible, is entertaining, and while you emerge wondering what Asda would think of the management style depicted here, you also emerge with the sense that much of the book is written from experience.
Some of the incidental detail is beautifully observed. Ben accompanies a friend for tests in the Radiology Department of St John's Hospital in Livingston, and it almost feels like you are there. Likewise a later encounter with the NHS, when Ben finds himself in the A&E Department of the same hospital after an ambulance ride from Linlithgow.
"Shop Front" is a book about an all too easily overlooked aspect of life in modern's Scotland, and as a result is relevant to everyone living here. In Samuel Best we have an author who can make the reader care about his characters, and who can draw the reader in and keep them turning the page. We look forward to seeing what he does next.