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No Mean City ❮BOOKS❯ ✬ No Mean City Author A. McArthur – Natus-physiotherapy.co.uk No book is associated with the city of Glasgow than No Mean City First published in , it is the story of Johnnie Stark, son of a violent father and a downtrodden mother, the Razor King of Glasgow s pr No book is associated with the city of Glasgow than No Mean City First published in , it is the story of Johnnie Stark, son of a violent father and a downtrodden mother, the Razor King of Glasgow s pre war slum underworld, the Gorbals The savage, near truth descriptions, the raw character portrayals, bring to life a story that is fascinating, authentic and convincing.


10 thoughts on “No Mean City

  1. John John says:

    My mother and father emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland after the end of WWII, and when I was a child in the 1970s, I recall going back to the old country every year or so to visit relatives Through my preadolescent American eyes, Glasgow looked like something out of another era Coal was still being used for household heating, milk was still delivered in glass bottles, everybody smoked either pipes or cigarettes, and dirty faced little boys ran around the streets selling papers My grandfather My mother and father emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland after the end of WWII, and when I was a child in the 1970s, I recall going back to the old country every year or so to visit relatives Through my preadolescent American eyes, Glasgow looked like something out of another era Coal was still being used for household heating, milk was still delivered in glass bottles, everybody smoked either pipes or cigarettes, and dirty faced little boys ran around the streets selling papers My grandfather, a veteran of WWI whose face bore disfiguring scars from a gas attack, lived in the Posilpark neighborhood I recall feeling as though the area was quite safe and generally friendly On our visits, my grandfather would take me on long walks all around Glasgow that would go on for hours and hours I would complain, like the lazy, chubby little American boy that I was, but I nonetheless enjoyed accompanying him as he stopped and chatted with the people around the city and shared his days with me.Despite my fond memories of visiting Glasgow as a youngster, I never became truly fascinated by its history and culture until the death of my mother a few years ago Since then I have traveled with my wife to visit surviving relatives, and I have begun to develop an interest in literature and movies set in this city It has been a bit of a surprise to me to find that my childhood memories bear very little resemblance to the image of Glasgow as it appears in a whole group of popular books and films Whereas the Glasgow I remember was a quaint, safe, friendly and homey place, Glasgow as it is depicted in literature and film is typically vicious, gang infested and dangerous The book No Mean City is a prime example.Written in 1935, No Mean City takes place in the notorious Gorbals neighborhood of Glasgow The story chronicles the lives of Johnnie and Peter Stark, two brothers following divergent life paths, who nonetheless are fated by social circumstance to meet tragic ends Johnnie becomes Razor King of the slums, fighting and slashing his way to fearsome notoriety among the local gangs Peter, on the other hand, tries hard to work his way to respectability and to enter the middle class as a manager at a local warehouse The book s message is quite nihilistic no matter how hard these brothers try to distinguish themselves and to rise above their circumstances, they will ultimately fail and be swallowed up by the overwhelming forces that drag all slum dwellers back down to their place.In many ways this book seems like a typical example of exploitative pulp fiction It is filled with scenes of sex and violence and is written with a pronounced moralizing tone There is very little subtlety in this novel, and the two authors make no secret of how pathetic and abject they think the main characters in the story really are Take for instance this passage There is a twisted sense of fair play among the lowest slum dwellers The gangster who flaunts his mistresses cannot seriously blame his wife for taking a lover He may cling to his rights he may expect service but he cannot and does not expect fidelity p 209 The book s slum dwellers are depicted as people who waste their lives drinking, fornicating and fighting They have become so cynical that they don t even experience feelings of jealously when their husbands or wives are unfaithful This is all just part of life in the Gorbals slums Even those characters like Peter who attempt to achieve respectability through hard work ultimately end up succumbing to their socialization, resorting to violence and drunkenness when things don t go their way Everyone in this book is doomed either to be destroyed by others or to self destruction.Having made this observation, it is however true that No Mean City does have flashes of authentic psychological and existential insight These insights, I think, transform the book into somethingthan mere exploitation Psychologically, the authors have successfully given voice to certain fears and struggles that all human beings encounter, whether slum dwellers or not In particular, the issue of how a person cobbles together a sense of self respect and establishes a social identity is given a patient and extended treatment in this novel We are granted honest access to the inner thoughts of both Johnnie and Peter as they make the decisions that end up molding who they become over the course of the story These decisions don t come easy, and in them I think any reader will be reminded of turning points in his or her own life There is something very truthful when, for instance, Johnnie considers the consequences of ignoring his ex girlfriend s attempt to publicly humiliate him Chpt V , or when Peter struggles with himself over the risks and benefits involved in leading his fellow workers in a strike Chpt XVI The internal dialogues presented in these and other sections of the work feel very real and familiar, and at such points the characters appear complicated, vulnerable and authentic.On an existential level, No Mean City is also a parable that illustrates the concept of being toward death Chapter XVIII begins with the following insight Every creature begins to die when it is born, and none can confidently declare when decay first sets in But, sooner or later, it becomes visible p 255 Johnnie is the character that most dramatically illustrates this concept as, over the course of the story, his physical form is transformed by heavy drinking and the beatings that he endures in gang fights It is as if he is a concrete exemplar of thegeneral truth that nothing human lasts We are all finite, thrown into the world to suffer, struggle, decay and die As the story progresses, Johnnie becomesandaware that his scarred and battered appearance is a verification of the reality of his life and its fated trajectory His body is like a canvass that visibly displays where he has been and where he is headed Others also recognize this, and finally this is his undoing when he is overwhelmed and murdered by a gang of younger toughs Those who are young and strong will soon become old and weak, and the cycle will continue And Gorbals life goes on its way just as if nobody could help it p 313 My aunt, who grew up in Glasgow, and who is now in her late 80s, tells me that she remembers reading this book when she was a youngster With a laugh, she told me that she herself danced with a few razor kings as a teenager in prewar Glasgow This is not the Glasgow that I experienced as a kid, but it apparently is a Glasgow that really did and still apparently does exist for some people


  2. Claire Claire says:

    I first read this book as a 15 year old schoolgirl, preparing for my Highers and I was hooked instantly It describes the gritty Gorbals slums of the pre war era 1920s 30s and the razor gangs therein The struggles of those who live in the slums and their desire to move onto better things and how they seem to be thwarted by the collective consciousness that you re somehow a snob if you want to get on in life The only other choice for some is to protect their territory and prove their I first read this book as a 15 year old schoolgirl, preparing for my Highers and I was hooked instantly It describes the gritty Gorbals slums of the pre war era 1920s 30s and the razor gangs therein The struggles of those who live in the slums and their desire to move onto better things and how they seem to be thwarted by the collective consciousness that you re somehow a snob if you want to get on in life The only other choice for some is to protect their territory and prove their worthiness by branding faces with razors and hanging round the old dancehalls of bygone Glasgow and terrorising people to gain respect I m a child of the 80s Thatcher era, which had it s own fair share of struggles for some, but this book still hugely appeals to me and I have read it several times and will continue to do so throughout my life It really is an all time favourite of mines


  3. JK JK says:

    This book primarily deals with the poverty in the slums of pre war Glasgow I found it to be quite horrendous in places, particularly in the gang mentalities and how difficult it was for people to get into an education or a career which would be good enough to allow them to escape the slums It made me wonder whether I would be able to better myself in such a situation, and the answer was probably not.The lives of all of the inhabitants of this novel just seem so incredibly depressing, and fil This book primarily deals with the poverty in the slums of pre war Glasgow I found it to be quite horrendous in places, particularly in the gang mentalities and how difficult it was for people to get into an education or a career which would be good enough to allow them to escape the slums It made me wonder whether I would be able to better myself in such a situation, and the answer was probably not.The lives of all of the inhabitants of this novel just seem so incredibly depressing, and filled with violence and hardship Very few people have ambitions many are content to just soldier on with what they have been given.I didn t find this to be well written, but I think it overcomes this with its brutal and frank social observations.This is definitely worth a look, particularly if you are familiar with the Glasgow area I found it interesting to be reading about streets and places I know with a historical slant placed on them, and I also enjoyed the use of Glasgow slang to project pieces of realism It s harrowing in places, and definitely cutting edge, but I d recommend it


  4. John D Moulton John D Moulton says:

    No Mean City is a 1935 work of fiction that tells of life in The Gorbals district of Glasgow, Scotland Written at much the same time that the novel depicts, it pulls few punches about the district s street urchins, gangland thugs and the few with ambitions to move on The main character, Johnnie Stark, sees no future beyond The Gorbals and instead fashions his life around being top dog in the dank and miserable arenas that are the tenement buildings and miserable public houses Johnnie s keep No Mean City is a 1935 work of fiction that tells of life in The Gorbals district of Glasgow, Scotland Written at much the same time that the novel depicts, it pulls few punches about the district s street urchins, gangland thugs and the few with ambitions to move on The main character, Johnnie Stark, sees no future beyond The Gorbals and instead fashions his life around being top dog in the dank and miserable arenas that are the tenement buildings and miserable public houses Johnnie s keeps himself fit to fight hard and soon becomes known as the Razor King , carrying cut throat razors in each of his waistcoat packets see book cover which he wields and slashes at the slightest provocation and often at provocation of his own.The book is quite engaging, though personally, I think Johnnie gets way to much of his own way, even given the various beatings he does suffer as things progress I waited for a worthy adversary and thought several times that I was going to get one, but instead read what often feelslike an education in Gorbals life of low level crime, hooliganism and down trodden women The books insights into Gorbals life in the 20s and 30s make it an interesting but not an exceptional read


  5. Miriam Smith Miriam Smith says:

    I did not finish this book, not because of the story line or writing because what I did read of it was very good, I just could not understand or get away with the very broad Scottish dialect which made the continuity of reading very difficult I may come back to it one day it s a shame because the story was rolling along quite nicely.


  6. Aggy Delvulij Aggy Delvulij says:

    Great book first read it almost 40 year ago takes you into the Glasgow of that era and gives a sense of the poverty and despair that the people must have felt at that time, it could have been based on the real life person called Billy Fullerton leader of the Brigton Billy Boys


  7. David Mclaughlan David Mclaughlan says:

    Having grown up in Maryhill In Glasgow and spent 25 years in the city I recognise the culture but not the time Glasgow has moved on but you could still find this aspect if you so wished I love Glasgow it is a hard city but with a big heart.


  8. Derek Beaugarde Derek Beaugarde says:

    This book is quintessentially the novel that gave Glasgow its label of being the most violent, crime ridden, destitute city in the world at that time in the Great Depression of the 1930s It was very evocative of the poverty in the single end tenements of the slum ridden Gorbals and even I can remember flats with outside toilets and bed recesses shared by whole families I would say it is a book of its time and although it has stood the test of time, it is sometimes quaint and old fashioned in i This book is quintessentially the novel that gave Glasgow its label of being the most violent, crime ridden, destitute city in the world at that time in the Great Depression of the 1930s It was very evocative of the poverty in the single end tenements of the slum ridden Gorbals and even I can remember flats with outside toilets and bed recesses shared by whole families I would say it is a book of its time and although it has stood the test of time, it is sometimes quaint and old fashioned in its language structure Still a worthwhile read


  9. W. Nicol W. Nicol says:

    I first read this book as a young teenager despite warnings from my family that this was a travesty of the Glasgow from which they moved in the late 1940s I remember being fascinated and discovered in my later years that it was the realism which had appalled my grandmother This because in the early years of her marriage, my grandfather had chosen to serve as a chemist in a poor locality of the city where his shop became the sole source of medical treatment for many in pre NHS days.


  10. K K says:

    read paperback


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