Read Swing Hammer Swing! by Jeff Torrington Online


An "energetic, irreverent and very funny" (New York Times Book Review) first novel set in Glasgow during a single week in the late sixties. Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, called it "a rich Scotch broth of language, steaming with metaphor...and pungent dialect." Winner of Britain's Whitbread Book of the Year Award....

Title : Swing Hammer Swing!
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780156001977
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 416 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Swing Hammer Swing! Reviews

  • Jim Fonseca
    2019-04-24 15:55

    Oh the brogue! Now lads and lassies, I don’a mind a bit a brogue, but wha’s a bloke from the States supos’ ta mak’a dis? “Maggie, god rest’re, never had tae hinge her back tae mend oor fire – bunker aye full tae the gunnels, so it was.” Or this: “Cauld enough tae make a polar bear greet; snaw never aff the grun.” Ok, so you have to work at it. It’s a bit of a chore because ALL the dialog is like that. Sometimes, despite trying I still can’t get quite get it, like “The shop’s owner, a crabbit wee nyaff.” Or “Just two points short of a back’n front in wan of the good bits up by.” Sometimes a proper noun is used and you don’t know if it refers to a person, a town or a bar. The novel is set in the late 1960’s in Gorbals, the worst slum in Glascow. Urban renewal/slum clearance is going on (thus the title) and only a few buildings, mostly flats and bars, remain standing. The main character lives in one of these walk up flats on the list for demolition – cold water, coal stove, a communal toilet shared by 14 people. If you look at pictures at this web site, it’s hard to believe that people lived in these conditions in Europe at that time. the action takes place in about a week while the main character’s wife is in the hospital awaiting a difficult delivery of their first child. The main character is a 20-ish man aspiring to be a writer, repeatedly sending out to publishers the same hard copy of his novel, coffee cup rings and all, because he has pawned his typewriter. He works part time as a projectionist in a decaying theater but mostly he’s on the dole; his wife begging him to get a real job now that the baby is due. On his daily visits to his wife in the hospital she nags him about -- let’s see, I’ve got that list here somewhere: hair (long, dirty), shoes (military boots, stink), clothes (military jacket), drinking (heavy), breath (smoke, booze), job (no real), money (?). Needless to say, her family hates him. There really isn’t any plot to speak of. Mostly he wanders from bar to bar, smoking, drinking his pints, shooting the bull, putting money on the horses and dodging bill collectors. He takes advantage of his wife’s absence to get some action on the side. Besides the brogue, the unusual, imaginative language is tremendous – a work of art. It’s filled with humor and irony. Some passages I liked: “It was the kind of place you’d only visit if your plane crash-landed there.”“The writings of a lunatic they looked like, bent and twisted words like an orchard through which a hurricane was racing, scattering the fruit of meaning.”“…a beefy guy with a mane of white hair which was so intricately piled on his head that it seemed a stray thought might cause it to avalanche.”“Too many books, too few answers.”“My jawbones crackled lightly as the yawn tautened them.”Imaginative to the point where it’s sometimes overdone, but you still have to admire it: “…that magnificient blonde edifice on her head. It looked like the work of a topiarist though, doubtless, it’d been created by her own bare hands, a blowgun, a gallon of hair lacquer, a few hundred hairpins, clasps and side-combs. With its French-combed flying buttresses, curlicues, intricately-coiled donjons and barbicans, it, apart from being a hairstyle, might also qualify as a listed building.”“About as comforting as would be the sight of a burning petrol station to a roadweary driver riding a tankful of echoes was the view ahead of me.” The novel won the Whitbread Book of the Year in 1992. The author was a factory worker who published it as his first book at age 57, 30 years after he started it. I give it a 5 for imagination and 4 for story but I have to settle on a 3 for the difficulties with the language. Still highly recommended if you’re game. Photos from the website

  • Jenaca
    2019-04-23 15:12

    I must admit I hated this at reminded me of James Joyce; a bit too witty and temperamental for my taste. However; like Joyce, the metaphors and little witty quips and smart-ass remarks along the way caught me up in the meatier parts of the writing. I honestly enjoy reading this novel and just wish that the author had more to offer after this publication. I really was astonished to discover that the author was actually middle-aged in the actual 1960s and not a 30 year old in the early 2000s. I really have a craving for this novel sometimes. It's like pancakes...that's the best way to describe it.

  • Alan
    2019-05-24 16:53

    yeh great Scottish novel (30 years in the making) of one week in the life of a Glaswegian drunk who visits his pregnant wife in hospital between visits to pubs and to friends. Set in the 60s as the Gorbals are demolished it is funny and energetic and full of fantastic word play. A rich and absorbing read, heavy with Scottish dialect. found some more notes in my 1995 notebook:..a kind of Glaswegian Ulysses with Cyclops the cat, the 3 sirens coming out of flats, his wife like Molly confined to bed (although here a week, not a day, she's having a baby in hospital), fags and pubs and beer and darts. The Dab four. Talky Sloan the Marxist ranter, given short shrift here.

  • Simon
    2019-05-14 09:00

    yesterday I scratched ma arse. Today I didnae.Brilliant book!

  • Trawets
    2019-05-06 08:52

    Set in 1960's Gorbals, this is a week in the life of Thomas Clay, who has taken a year's "sabbatical" with a "bad back", to write his first book.The Gorbals is in transition, the slums in which Thomas lives are being demolished, and the high-rise flats are being bulit.In the course of the week, Thomas gets drunk more than once, visits his pregnant wife in hospital, committs adultary, is harangued by his in-laws, stands up to a childhood bully, is almost killed by hard-line Protestants, witnesses a murder and much more.This was Jeff Torrington's only novel and though set, by my calculation in 1968, Beatles Yellow Submarine, Apollo space program etc, it apparently took thirty years to write, and this occasionally shows in some of the dialogue which have I think later references. This small matter apart, I found this a thoroughly entertaining book, readers South of the border may struggle occaisionmally, but should go with the flow.

  • Jack O'Donnell
    2019-04-27 09:53

    Swing Hammer Swing! won the Whitbread Book of the Year. I like whitebread, but scientists with Twitter feeds say it’s no good for ducks or swans. The latter can’t moult and the young are unable to fly. This book does fly, but doesnae go very far. It’s the Gorbals, Scobie Street, when all the houses were falling down and the less-well healed populist sent on their way. The ne’-er-do-well narrator Tam Clay, 28, wordsmith and would-be-author is aware that Scabie Street has its faults, all of which he’s keen to document, and even the rats have tucked their tails in and, moved out, enmasse, but an invitation to visit the housing office in Castlemilk, or the option of the high-rise ‘Barlinnies in the sky’, doesn’t appeal. It’s a Friday to Friday stretch in the falling-down life of Tam Clay. Plot is where you bury somebody so he would have the reader believe, but you can’t believe a word Tam Clay says. On the day of Talky Sloan’s funeral, for example, Matt Lucas pelted by snowballs, undisguised as bricks, and dressed in strips of sheet as The Mummy to advertise Planet Cinemas screening of a film of the same name, stumbled onto the road and is knocked down by a bubble car. But a lot has happened since the reader had come in on the opening paragraph a week and 406 pages prior to that, with Matt’s wife Rhona in the Maternity waiting to have their first child and his in-laws none too happy about Tam’s decision to devote himself to drink, and dereliction of duty and finding the right path not to work, so he can find time to work on his writing, isn’t as easy as it sounds. A problem many of us are familiar with. ‘Something really weird was happening in the Gorbals – from the battered hulk of the Planet Cinema in Scobie Street a deepsea diver was emerging. He hesitated, bamboozled, maybe by the shimmering fathoms of light, the towering rockfaces of the snow coraled tenements. After a few moments the diver allowed the vestibule door to swing closed behind him then, taking small steps, he came out onto the pavement which in the area sheltered by the sagging canopy bore only a thin felt of snow. Up the quiet little grave for privileged snowflakes desecrating feet had trudged a pathway which shone with a seal-like lustre.’Characters like Tam’s bosom buddy, Paddy Cullen, who ‘would spend Eternity chasing a mobile pub barefooted across a jagged terrain of smashed whisky bottles’ leap from the page, but no very quickly, because they’re usually pissed. I think this is called, indirect free style. But like the Dab Four, the Beatles 1968 hit film, which come Judgement Day they hope can save Planet Cinema shutting once and for all, all you need is love. Jeff Torrington loves his city and loves his characters. He does not bring them to life and leave them stumbling around a cardboard Glasgow mumbling lines nobody want to listen to. Nor does he fall from character to caricature, which, admittedly is easily done, and as Torrington tended to do in his follow up novel (The Devil’s Carousel) and which really did not have a plot, or even a story worth listening to. Swing Hammer Swing! really does sing. If you want to know what it was like in Glasgow, in the Gorbals for the ordinary man, or even the odd woman, like Becky that bit on the side whose man beats her, then read this. If you want to know how to mix four parts hypocrisy to three parts religion read this. It’s right up there as a Glasgow and international classic alongside that jewel in the crown, Ralph Glasser, Growing Up in the Gorbals.

  • Col
    2019-05-03 11:57

    Like a number of other books set in my home city, this is essentially a tour of Glasgow in some ways - but this one is of the city working class in the 1960's, the bars they frequent and their love lives. Thomas Clay is a failed novelist/artist/philosopher - but then everybody in Glasgow is a failed novelist/artist/philosopher - even the ones who are a success at something are usually tormented by the novel that got away! Clay is being tracked by a sinister presence so he tries to stay one step ahead of whatever it is that's coming his way. His wife Rhona is pregnant, his bit on the side, Becky McQuade is a form of sex-on-tap and much of Glasgow is waiting on something better - it's just not sure what! In some respects there isn't really a plot to Swing Hammer Swing - it's more a diatribe of every thing Thomas thinks, says, hears and does. It's shot through with Glasgow dialect - Christ knows how anybody from anywhere outside of the M8 motorway is able to read it. At one part of the novel Thomas predicts that someday, bingo will be on offer in public libraries! I loved the idea then and still love it. I work in local government - if there's ever a brainstorming session about the future of our public libraries I won't be able to resist chucking this in!I wrote about Swing Hammer Swing as one of Ten Books That Represent Scotland. If you are interested in reading about the others you can find them at

  • Brian Grover
    2019-05-14 13:08

    This reads a lot like the Scottish version of The Ginger Man, although it's much warmer and more likable, despite an early infidelity committed by the narrator. Probably funnier too. It's set in a run down section of Glasgow in the late 60s, and it's just a week in the life of an unemployed layabout whose wife is in the hospital, pregnant with their first child.It's clearly written by a Scot, for his fellow Scots, and a lot of material eluded me simply because I couldn't tell what Torrington was talking about - I felt like a kid reading Shakespeare for the first time. The book seems like it could be altogether too miserable at first, but it settles into a groove midway through, and I was truly sad to reach the end.

  • Andrew
    2019-05-08 12:04

    An interesting novel told as the narrative of a young Glaswegian man in 1960's gorbals area of Glasgow as the hammer swings on the tenements. Whilst his wife is in hospital with complications in her pregnancy he spends a week going from one scrape to another, numerous drinks and an adulterous fling. It takes a bit to get used to the dialect , and the character is a contradiction intellectual who is drowning in his environment. It is funny and I think it would pay to read again. Overall I'd recommend if you enjoy a gritty read!

  • Kevin Tole
    2019-05-11 10:14

    A great book and an arch example of what you can do through the power of creative writing classes whilst on the broo. Some of the scenes are hilarious Glasgow classics - like the night at the 'arty' in the Possil.

  • Ray Melville
    2019-05-21 11:07

    Quite enjoyed this. Very Glasgow, dark humour, many twists and turns in the plot.

  • Mara Eastern
    2019-04-28 12:51

    An enduring record of Glasgow inner city slum clearances, horrible and hilarious.

  • Tanis
    2019-05-09 12:07

    Recommended on R4 as a particularly funny read; I'm afraid I don't agree. Not very funny and quite hard to follow if you're not familiar with Scottish colloquialisms.

  • Ty Sassaman
    2019-05-24 11:57

    This book is a hilarious tale wherein the author keeps the reader both 'in the moment' and 'without a story'. The accents can be a pain (think Trainspotting), but it is well worth the effort.

  • Pete
    2019-05-05 16:00

    It might be a good book but I lost patience. I found the language difficult to read and simply didn't enjoy it.

  • Peter
    2019-05-12 17:16

    Scottish punk novel that strives to be Joycean. I couldn't get into it, but would gladly exchange my copy with someone who has a book s/he can't get into.

  • Juliet
    2019-05-12 10:57

    Struggling a bit with this one but it's early pages only.

  • Brian Hirrel
    2019-04-28 12:02

    This guy waited until he was in his late sixties to write a book!. It goes to show it's never too late to try something. His prose is simply stunning.

  • LIndsay
    2019-05-15 16:10

    Some bloke on radio 4 was raving about this today so I will give it a go sometime.