I finished reading “Laidlaw” by William McIlvanney on the bus on the way home from the town. This was ideal because as I was reading I was in the surroundings and setting of the novel. It made me very aware of the real dangers and traps of the true Glasgow. I my S.S I am going to trace how Laidlaw’s job controls his life and limits his time with his family.
“Laidlaw” is set in modern day Glasgow, a city full of hard men and powerful villains. After Jack Laidlaw finishes a case in Dumfries he arrives home to a cold and bloody morning, a morning of death. Laidlaw tasks the case and with his unusual and precise questions picks at the case until eventually it opens. The case takes him deep into Glasgow, into the slums and dark dance halls, introducing evil and sadistic characters that play an important part in the murder.
In the beginning we find out that he has been away from home working in Dumfries. Straight from Dumfries he goes to his office. We find out that his job is a key part of his life. When he arrives he says “back to office gloom sweet gloom.”
There is another sentence that suggests that Laidlaw had not been home nor had a rest when we read ” He was tired, would soon be home. Already we can see that Laidlaw does not really make reference to his family and this presents a feeling of absence. Laidlaw now begins to drift into his past. This may be because of his drinking or maybe because his family life is giving him problems. He refers to his marriage as “a maze that nobody had mapped” and this suggests that his relationship is going nowhere. There is no set route to be taken. Only trial and error will sort it out. Furthermore he sees his marriage as an “Infinity of habit and hurt and betrayal.” He goes one way and does his own thing and Ena (Jacks wife) her own, only meeting occasionally through the children. He being a Detective Inspector a demanding job, which is at the core of the fragile marital bond, causes this.
A small part of the way through the novel we see the first interactions between Laidlaw and his family. We find out that the time spent with the family breaks the two lives he lives, his family and his job.
At the beginning all is fine in the Laidlaw household. Jack is sitting with his children in front of the television playing a “what happened next” game but then came an interruption, a telephone call. “Laidlaw hoped it wasn’t for him, but it was”
His family time was interrupted by this phone call from the Commander of the Crime Squad. They wanted Laidlaw. There had been a murder. This caused trouble in his home. Ena was not happy about this as she wanted Laidlaw to be here with the children and her, “All I want is a nice, uninterrupted Sunday” This sparks an argument in the Laidlaw household. The argument that occurs is an attack on Laidlaw by his wife. Ena begins to get angry and shouts at Jack, criticising his relationship with his children-simply because he is never there- saying “What do I care… my children need a father.”
This triggers from Laidlaw an outburst of swearing “Somebody is fucking dead. That might be a nuisance to you but it’s a fucking sight worse for them”. Laidlaw is less than sympathetic to his wife’s feelings and has little tolerance for her and he leaves. “He gave the children hurried kisses like bruises” This is a symbol of Laidlaws hasty departure and this shows he might be gone for a long time. Bruises are marks that stay for a long time and can leave pain that stays for with you. Laidlaw wants the kisses to remind the children of him like a bruise. Now we can see the extent to which his job interrupts his life.
As Laidlaw leaves we see that this is bothering him. Laidlaw is agitated about the events that had happened. There was a great barrier between Jack and his wife. Laidlaw can not handle his relationship and after the argument he goes up stairs. Ena went to bed. Laidlaw was pacing around trying to remind Ena that he was leaving. Ena knew. It was a familiar event and Ena knew what would follow.
However no matter how much pain the argument had inflicted they still cared about each other. Even while Laidlaw was packing, Ena was showing her affection for him. “She hoped he was remembering to pack his migraine pills”
We learn that this is a regular occurrence. This routine happens quite often and every time it does it is damaging the relationship with Ena. She wondered how often he had filled that suitcase.
Ena’s life is filled with Laidlaw’s work. At first when Laidlaw had to leave it really bothered but the more it happened the more accustomed she came. Ena felt that maybe they weren’t meant to be together: endless amounts of arguing, Laidlaw’s job and the kids. She had decided that “They were… probably what incompatible meant.”
Jack’s relationship with the children is not really affected by his job. He felt no guilt from the accusations that Ena made. He knew himself that he loved his children. This is demonstrated when after watching a horror film and when the children are in bed, a whimper came from Jackie’s room. Jack came up and like a “father” Laidlaw aided and comforted him. He was afraid of monsters. Jack assured him that there was nothing to worry about. ” The certainty in his fathers voice had burned the monsters out of his room…like a blow torch. Ena still wanted them to be in love again, the way they once were.
Later on in the novel we see that their marriage is not to be as Laidlaw’s love is for his children and another woman called Jan. Jan and Laidlaw had met at the hotel room where Jack was staying (away from his wife and close to the job.) They made love. Laidlaw cared for Jan and their relationship wasn’t new. Jack was recovering from his guilt. Did he still feel for Ena? The conversation between them went on with Jack asking about the children. Again there is no mention of Ena. Jack and Ena’s marriage looked long gone and the fact that Jan wishes to live with Jack makes their marriage seem like an impossible mission.
The novel has a strange structure. In the novel we see the story from everyone’s point of view. Each character has their own chapter; this allows us to see the truth behind the murder and the pain that everyone is going through. It also lets us see what everyone thinks about Laidlaw. There are no flashbacks. The novel is written in third person narrative so this lets us see what everyone is thinking and feeling about the events that have occurred.
In the novel McIlvanney almost always sets aside a large part of the chapters for settings and descriptions. This adds realism to the novel and makes you aware of the surroundings that the novel is set in.
Being set in Glasgow the dialogue in the novel is full of Glaswegian dialect. This also helps us remember where it is set. It also lets us understand how the characters react to the situation, with aggression, sadness and despair. These are also shown through the language chosen; “Fuck off swear words they’ll survive”, “Whit is it” and “Just tell us whit ye came tae tell us.”
In conclusion in my essay I have emphasised the fact that Laidlaws job controls his life and limits his time spent with his family by using the evidence in the novel. I feel that in my argument I have emphasised this point well.