Distinguished by irony, compassion and the author’s own dry wit, these three novels paint a memorable picture of life in the streets, schools and tenements of Glasgow in the 1950s and 60s. With a unique vision of loneliness, old age, sexual longing, hot young blood and youth’s casual cruelty, George Friel’s books explore a dark comedy of tangled communication, human need and fading community.
All these elements come together in the humorous parable of greed, religion and slum youth that is The Boy Who Wanted Peace; in the fate of old and disturbed Miss Partridge who is obsessed with the innocence of young Grace; and in the mental collapse of Mr Alfred, a middle-aged school teacher who is in love with one of his pupils.
The humour, realism and moral concern of Friel’s work clearly anticipate and stand alongside the novels of Alan Spence, Alasdair Gray, William McIlvanney and James Kelman.
“George Friel is a talented and, I think, original novelist.”
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“A compassionate realist.”
“A singular talent.”
scotland On Sunday
George Friel (1910-75) was born and brought up in a two-room flat in Maryhill Road in Glasgow, the city where he was to live and work in all his life. Educated at St Mungo’s Academy, he was the only one in a family of seven children to got to University where he took an Ordinary MA, before training as a teacher at Jordanhill College. He married his wife Isobel in 1939 and the couple moved to Bishopsbriggs where they resided for the rest of their days. When war broke out Friel served in the RAOC before returning to teaching, a profession he gradually came to hate and distrust, although he never lost his concern for children. He became assistant head of a primary school before retiring in the early seventies. Such experience became the basis of his novels.
Friel’s first novel was The Bank of Time (1959). In all his books he determined to write about the everyday lives of ordinary people from his working-class background. His rather dark sense of humour and a rigorously intellectual style did not make him a popular author although The Boy who wanted Peace (1964) sold well after its appearance on television. Grace and Miss Partridge (1969) was followed by Mr Alfred M.A. (1972), perhaps his most powerful novel. An Empty House appeared after the author’s death from cancer in 1975. His short stories were collected and published posthumously as A Friend of Humanity (1992).