There’s always something extra in a novel for a reader when it’s set in their hometown. It goes back to Alasdair Gray’s call to arms, (with reference to Glasgow), in his 1981 novel Lanark that ‘[…] if a city hasn’t been used by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively.’ That’s as relevant today as it always was, but as a city changes it’s important that it is continuously reimagined to reflect the transformation. Alison Irvine’s Cat Step does just that, taking us to parts of Glasgow, and depicting the lives of people, all too rarely found in fiction. But even if you’re not from that city there’s plenty to enjoy.
Set mostly in Lennoxtown, a town at the foot of the Campsie Fells, Cat Step introduces us to narrator Liz and her daughter Emily who have travelled north to take care of family business in a place small enough to notice new faces, and where news – good, bad, and fake – travels fast. Liz and Emily are involved in an incident which casts doubt on Liz’s fitness as a parent. From this single event their lives become increasingly difficult and complex as they have to cope with the past and consider the future, and the present is about just surviving.
It’s a thriller but one set in the everyday, and which is all too believable in the way it depicts a life unravelling despite a person trying to do their best, while having to cope with grief, guilt, and the death of their dreams. But the thing that stays with you once you finish Cat Step is the characters and their humanity – flaws and all, particularly with regard to Liz, Emily, and June who becomes a (grand)mother figure and friend, despite hiding her own secrets and a genuine fear of the past.
Cat Step catches you unaware – you are only a few chapters in before you realise you are completely invested not only in the people, but also the place. It’s rare to make readers care in the way Alison Irvine does.