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  1. Last year, ahead of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, the Organising Committee announced that the launch ceremony would feature the detonation of the remaining 30-storey Red Road tower blocks as the spectacular centrepiece. There was an outcry from past residents of the blocks who felt this would not be a dignified end to the homes they had lived in, often for many years. The Red Road blocks had become so unloved that this backlash surprised many people. This Road Is Read is the story of those blocks. Beginning in 1964, we find nothing more than a pile of sand. From the sand rose girders, and from the girders rose the highest residential blocks in Europe. We see the first residents draw keys in a lucky dip – some wanted to be high, some wanted to be low. They could swap keys with others until happy compromises were reached. We saw the establishment of vertical villages, residents using rotas to see who would clean the landings outside their “houses”. It was a brave concept, and the idealism, the excitement at the novelty of high rise living, was touching. Then, section by section we see the problems start to emerge. There are gangs; there’s vandalism; there are families moving out to be replaced by students; there are students moving out to be replaced by asylum seekers. But the start of the problems, the pin that burst the bubble of hope, seemed to be the slow and faulty lifts. Too often, people were inconvenienced by the lifts, causing a loss of pride, causing a loss of standards, causing terrible social problems. This Road Is Red features stories told in snippets of some of the residents. Most are told contemporaneously, a few are told in italicised reminiscences. There are sad stories, happy stories, playful stories, smutty stories. There are suicides, there are illegally painted tennis courts, there are kestrels and pigeons and dogs. There are fires, thefts and third parties. There’s even a birth. Whilst the stories seldom join up and there’s no obvious fictional thread, there is a common story of Glasgow and its working class. We see societal changes reflected through the occupants of the building. We see the world changing at the foot of the giant towers. This is a social history par excellence. The characters are engaging, the reader is drawn into the ebbs and floes of the towers’ fortunes and the ending is really quite teary as the great monoliths return to the sand of the opening pages. Those of us who did not understand the reaction to the Commonwealth Games plan would do well to read this book; it will bring us to the same space as the former residents. The towers may not have been perfect but the residents had invested their blood, sweat and tears into making them home – and they did have some pretty amazing views. Glasgow is a wonderful city that sometimes hides its inner beauty under a rather challenging exterior. This novel is a key to unlock that beauty. *****
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