The Making of Mickey Bell
by Kellan MacInnes
Mickey Bell is down on his luck. HIV-positive and unemployed, he feels as if he never really got to make a start in life. This book is all about Mickey and how he overcomes many of his challenges, finding something worth living for – an appreciation for the mountains of Scotland.
Kellan MacInnes’s character creation here really is first class. Mickey is brought to life right from the start, and even minor characters are deftly painted with a skilful blend of humour and sometimes tragic realism. The description’s great too – much of the book is highly evocative of working-class Glasgow, and the narrative builds up a very distinctive picture of the area. When the narrative moves to the mountains, there is a tangible beauty in the description, timelessness perhaps tinged with the ache of longing. This author loves the mountains, and it shows.
The writing style is highly distinctive. It contains direct monologues from Mickey and other characters, which provide a startling and sudden insight into the minds of the people this story is all about. Point of view flits from character to character – but this is more than mere head-hopping. It’s done with deliberation and skill, and helps to create a rich and complex reality for each scene. Sometimes the narrative even takes us inside the mind of a wild animal of the mountain. I can’t think of any other work of fiction that uses multiple POVs this effectively.
If this book has a mission, I’d say it’s for some form of social justice. The champions of The Making of Mickey Bell are the marginalised and the downtrodden. Although it’s arguable that the climax of the story poses more questions than it answers, there is a powerful message of hope here. From a bleak tone in the first pages, things become more optimistic, and Mickey swells with purpose when he discovers the Munros.
This novel is politically opinionated, pro-Scottish independence and anti-establishment. Although it would be easy to say that people with opposing views will find the treatment of these subjects a little blunt and heavy handed, I believe the strength of the characters and the story will overcome any difference of opinion. Just as love of the mountains unites people with disparate political beliefs, so all readers will be able to appreciate Mickey’s triumphant journey of discovery in the outdoors.
This is a fantastic book from the very talented author of Caleb’s List. It’s a story of social injustice, ordinary people trying to find some sense in a desperate world, and the redemptive power of Scotland’s mountains.
Disclaimer: the publisher sent me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.