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Our Fathers

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by Andrew O'Hagan. Faber & Faber. 282 pp. £16.99

For a novel purporting to be about tower blocks, this one takes a long time to get to the subject, writes Ruth Slavid. It starts with the painful story of a boy growing up with an alcoholic father, first of all in Berwick and then in Saltcoats where his father is cook at an approved school. But slowly we get to know his grandfather, Hugh Bawn, 'Mr Housing' - a man who grew up in the slums of Glasgow, obsessed with sweeping them away and replacing them with tower blocks, where people would come 'up to the breeze'.

This is the tale of a driven, arrogant man, who ends his life on the eighteenth floor of a crumbling block, still maintaining the rightness of his vision, while surrounded by accusations of graft - the result of the short cuts he took to reduce costs and build more. Some of the irony is overplayed; his beloved grandson makes his living demolishing the very blocks that Hugh commissioned. But if the insights are more into the nature of drunkenness and of Scottish Catholic chauvinism than the finer points of housing policy, that is not to the detriment of the novel.

For all his failings, Mr Housing does not escape our affection, if only because of his extreme loathing of golf courses. 'But the thing about golfers, Jamesie - they always have their say. Masons. Coppers. The Chairman of ibm. Everyone is at the golf. But ye know the flats in Sandyhills? The eight blocks. They were a golf course. And people screaming for new homes. I just took a plough over the whole field. And the blocks were up in the sky in three months. That was news for the golfers.' And that's what I call a hero.

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