On the doors by Eliza Gearty is a debut collection of connected short or flash fiction, produced as a beautifully designed small paperback novella by Glasgow’s enterprising Speculative Books. Iona Lee provides the cover illustration and Chris McQueer and Imogen Stirling have both given their endorsements, giving the reader great hope for an enjoyable read.
The book is a collection of sequential vignette-sized fictionalised anecdotes about the life of a ‘chugger’ – or charity mugger – going door to door trying to gather funds, which, as anyone who has ever been unfortunate enough to experience this first hand will tell you, is a pretty soul-destroying occupation. And, unfortunately, Gearty’s depiction results in some fairly soul-destroying scenes.
Scottish literature in general is blighted with its subject matter being herded into three broad camps: Outlander-style kilt porn; Compton MacKenzie-style loveable Highland rogues; or Irvine Welsh-style urban drunks and drug addicts, and sadly, Gearty’s book falls into the latter rut with its portrait of Glasgow’s householders and her fellow zero-hours-contracted chuggers as seen through the narrating fundraiser’s eyes.
This is a shame, because there is some exceptionally good writing and keenly observed dialogue in the ninety-two compact pages of On the doors, and Gearty is quite obviously a writer of talent. This concise pen portrait of Shettleston, for example, is beautifully realised and indicative of the author’s considerable skill with words: “…dark pubs. A cragged church with high, hooked windows like hooded eyes. Sheets hung up for curtains in the ground-floor flats. A beautician’s called Pink Petal, the still-fresh paint slow-dipping like syrup – and through the window a woman, bent in that peculiar position, eyes closed, while another works patiently on the details of her lashes…”
It has its faults, but, all-in-all, On the doors is a promising first attempt from a writer to definitely keep your eye on.