“Deserving of this new edition” – Buddha Da by Anne Donovan

When Anne Marie’s father becomes a Buddhist

“it didnae seem tae make that much difference… He used tae go doon the pub on a Tuesday and noo he went tae the Buddhist Centre tae meditate.”

For Jimmy McKenna meditation, which leads him into a deeper study of Buddhism, “made me feel mair peaceful, mair real.”

“Most people think Buddhism’s about meditating, but it’s really about how you live your whole life”,

and as he changes, he stops drinking and then decides to be celibate for a time, it changes his relationship with his wife and daughter. 

First published in 2003 Buddha Da is being republished as one of Canongate’s Canons, and is deserving of this new edition. Anne Donovan writes with a similar comic touch to that of Roddy Doyle, both use the accent of their city (Glasgow in Donovan’s case) and behind the lightness is an abundance of the tragedies of daily life. It is all carried off, however (like Buddhism), with a warm life-enhancing acceptance of all things. The soap opera quality to Buddha Da is among its greatest strengths, the understanding that daily life continues amid grief and change. 

Jimmy is an endearing character, but as he gets more serious about Buddhism his self-improvement drives Liz, his wife, away: “Ah couldnae get over just how selfish and self-centred he was.” In striving for enlightenment, he removes himself from the burdens of domestic life, even becoming a vegetarian has consequences for the family:

“Says he’s a vegetarian. Mammy’s havin tae make two dinners every night.”

Donovan gently dramatises what happens when one person begins to improve themselves but those around them remain the same,

“ah suppose ah always thought that wanst ah’d found whitever it was ah was lookin fur, well, ah’d just go back tae ma life.”

It takes a tragedy, the possibility of losing Liz for good and the influence of Madonna,

“she keeps changing herself, her image, her music – everythin she does is new,”

to make Jimmy realise what is most important to him.

Any Cop?: I first read Buddha Da about fifteen years ago, re-reading it now (in middle-age) brings into focus the questions it raises, the answers it suggests and the incompatibility of those answers with family life. The comedy now seems wiser, the writing more perceptive and aware that all answers lead to another question. 


James Doyle

One comment

  1. I read this at the time it came out and enjoyed it. I thought at the time she captured the way comedy and tragedy go hand in hand in Glasgow and I remember the pleasure of relaxing in the dialect of my home city for a few days of reading. It was no James Kelman or Alistair Gray but I liked this more than enough to want to read it again now and see what I make of it all these years later!

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