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Book Review: Invisible Schemes – John McGlade

Invisible Schemes can easily be summed up as the Welcome to Night Vale podcast and Rodoreda’s novel Death in Spring nip out for a Tennent’s. Is that a lazy comparison? Sure. Accurate? Aye, at a surface level. In truth, Invisible Schemes by John McGlade achieves much more than I could possibly describe with a cheap one liner.

Invisible Schemes is a novella built out of many fable-like individual bricks, surreal vignettes, surrounding its central narrative core. At the centre of the novel in the form of fairly traditional narrative chapters, there’s McCann and his nephew Mark. McCann, in his own words, ‘a thick cunt fae the back end’ in fact nothing like it, is having trouble selling his drugs; no one is buying. So, he sends Marky boy out into the schemes to figure out why. Enter the vignettes, Mark’s descriptions of the schemes (the other sort of chapter) and, oh boy, you’ll feel like you’ve jumped into the uncle’s stash.

These vignettes are gorgeous, wild, sneaky and, most of all, poignant. What you get is surreal descriptions of different housing schemes; that have adapted to some absurd living condition imposed by either a freak un/natural event or, more often than not, a greedy/corrupt and overbearing force, either political, or economic in nature, a distinction which is purposely blurred

throughout the novella, hinting at some form of nebulous yet deserving criticism of the ruling class. Exhibit numero uno: ‘Those Schemes (…) they were built to hold people, but not time. The planners flattened the past, then the free market strangled the future.’

In the end, much like in real life, the people bend over backwards and life goes on. Unlike in real life, however, inhabitants of these schemes must occasionally dodge a giant rubber ball that roams the streets for no apparent reason, or deal with a random explosion here and there after a project to destroy and rebuild a scheme runs out of funds, and people return home with the explosive charges still in place. You get the gist; things get strange. Sometimes there’s also a sort of moral lesson, à la children’s book, at the core of these chapters like ‘competing with your fellow man can be silly and lead to blindness’, or ‘people will always find other people and strive for connection despite the attempts of a system focused solely on maximising production’. 

That said, you’d be wrong to assume the book to be no more than a quirky take on moral tales. This thing is also sharp, beautiful, poetic – and tidy and full of purpose in the end when it’s time to answer the question at the centre of the novella: why did people stop buying McCann’s gear?, They say it’s the journey that matters, and this is a damn fine one, but that’s not to say John McGlade disappoints in the destination department either.

Invisible Schemes is a breath of fresh air in Scottish and world literature alike.

Invisible Schemes is out now, published by Arkbound

Words by: Manuel Cardo

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