"Fairy Rock" is a crime novel in verse by author Stephen Watt and I approached it with great interest. Firstly, I wondered if it was actually possible to write a novel this way and make it more than just a series of short episodes: how would the parts hang together? Secondly, I wasn't sure how the characters would be introduced and if their individual stories would emerge sufficiently strongly enough to carry them through from poem to poem when, inevitably, they would appear sporadically throughout the novel. And thirdly, I questioned whether the setting and storyline could be delivered convincingly in verse rather than prose in a way that allowed it to emerge as a coherent piece of writing. I need not have worried, Stephen Watt does all of these things brilliantly!
"Fairy Rock" is set in the Bridgeton area of Glasgow at the turn of the Millennium, a time when sectarian divisions and organised crime were rife in what was dubbed the "Murder Capital of Europe". It follows the fortunes of four local residents as they try to survive and thrive, whilst facing the reality that life is extremely hard in their dog eat dog world. Just trying to get by is difficult enough, but to make things worse, one local family wields power through a tradition of torture and this impacts directly on the lives of our four. The story evolves as a chase to the death, where to run or be outrun seem to be the only two options. We meet Danny, angry and set against the world, even while still in school, whose luck runs out when his friend Laura turns him in and he ends up residing at her majesty's pleasure. Will it change him and steer him on a different course? Laura is a good girl, or is she? She too is a product of Bridgeton, with its warped belief system. Can she break free and make something of herself, or is she destined to live the same sub-optimal life as her peers? Then there is Deek, he has guile, but how long and how far can he run?
There are echoes of "Trainspotting" in "Fairy Rock". The frenetic pace is similar. The characters are as hard hitting and the description as brutally shocking. But as a novel it works and as you progress through the book, it is easy to forget that it is written in verse. Each separate poem sets the scene and introduces the characters, then the action happens and the reader moves on. The interconnected stories are kept going like spinning plates, all the way to a very satisfying conclusion. Whilst more gruesome elements of the story are hard to stomach at times, this is a worthy read.