Book review: Paradise Road by Stephen O’Donnell


Every now and then, you come across something that’s just too good not to share – something that ticks all the right boxes in its category in such a way that you just feel like you’re a part of it from the word “go” – or in this case, “They’re no happy these bastards, are they, unless they’re giein every one ay us grief?”. “Paradise Road” is definitely one of those things, and for me, that is something I’ve experienced less frequently in recent years, and being in that zone where you just feel the need to keep reading, has always been one of my favourite things.

“Paradise Road” tells the story of a young Glaswegian by the name of Kevin McGarry – a seemingly regular guy with a talent for football and a love for Celtic, whose path we follow all the way from a highly promising football career that’s brought to an end due to injury, through his early adulthood where he tries to make a living for himself as a joiner, before ending up travelling through Europe following the team he loves.

There’s really not a lot I can say about O’Donnell’s debut novel that hasn’t been said already. It has been highly praised among the Celtic community specifically, but also by football fans in general, so obviously, my expectations when I opened this book were high. However, nothing could have prepared me for what I had coming. As soon as I’d started reading it, I knew this was a book I’d find hard to put down.

What I found between these pages, can be described as a journey of sorts – a journey through Europe, a journey through a piece of Celtic history, but also a journey through a wide spectre of emotions as we follow the characters’ ups and downs throughout the story. It can also be seen as a love story (and this is my girly side talking) – between a man and his football team (and the occasional girl of course), and about him finding his place in life and how his outlook on life and such things changes as he grows up and seeks new thrills. With characters I believe every football fan can relate to in one way or other, I think O’Donnell paints a very vivid and believable picture of life among the working class population of Glasgow in the eighties.

“Paradise Road” really is a heart-warming work of football fiction, and part of what got to me personally was how it’s written with such sincerity and a dry, yet warm sense of humour (which I feel is very characteristic for Scottish football supporters) that this could actually be someone’s life story. Also, I feel that the first person narrative and strong Glaswegian slang through most of the book, adds to that feeling. You might think that to a foreigner like myself, that bit might turn out to be a bit of a challenge, but on the contrary, it was one of the things I enjoyed most about the book, as the Glasgow accent (as some of you already know) is one of my favourite ones. The book also offers what I’ll imagine is a very welcome sense of nostalgia for those old enough or lucky enough to have been there during the time-frame of the story. The rest of us will have to make do with “God, I wish I’d been there” or something along those lines.

There’s one thing I find essential to any piece of creative work, and that is heart and dedication. Without it, you can bet your bottom dollar you’ve got a failure on your hands, and whether it has it or not, is something that’s usually easy to spot. “Paradise Road” has it in abundance, which I think is part of the reason it’s been so well received. Not only is it a brilliantly written work of fiction, I also get the impression that this is a piece that’s been written not for praise or profit, but simply because it’s something the author wanted to write.

You may think this all sounds almost too good to be true, but I’m not quite finished. The book also comes with a literary side dish, if you will, called “A Footballer’s Dream”, which describes something I’m sure has been many a wee bhoy’s dream – playing for Celtic and Scotland. It is also an example of how Kevin McGarry’s life could have turned out if his career had not been ended by injury. These randomly placed parts are equally entertaining and intriguing as the rest of the book, and this is something I feel gives it an extra dimension.

So, in conclusion; if you haven’t had the chance to read this book yet for whatever reason, get onto it. If you enjoy football and a good, easy read, this is definitely for you. You can thank me later.

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