Paper Cup

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Pub Date 2 Jun 2022 | Archive Date 30 Jun 2022

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What if going back means you could begin again?

Rocked by a terrible accident, homeless Kelly needs to escape the city streets of Glasgow. Maybe she doesn't believe in serendipity, but a rare moment of kindness and a lost ring conspire to call her home. As Kelly vows to reunite the lost ring with its owner, she must return to the small town she fled so many years ago.

On her journey from Glasgow to the south-west tip of Scotland, Kelly encounters ancient pilgrim routes, hostile humans, hippies, book lovers and a friendly dog, as memories stir and the people she thought she'd left behind for ever move closer with every step.

Full of compassion and hope, Paper Cup is a novel about how easy it can be to fall through the cracks, and what it takes to turn around a life that has run off course.

What if going back means you could begin again?

Rocked by a terrible accident, homeless Kelly needs to escape the city streets of Glasgow. Maybe she doesn't believe in serendipity, but a rare moment...

Advance Praise

'Big-hearted and poignant, Paper Cup is a joyous read' SARA SHERIDAN

'Paper Cup is very special indeed. Not only is it exquisitely written - and I mean catch-your-breath exquisite - the story is so real and told with such grace and compassion... Trust me (trust me), your world will be a better place for reading this story' JOANNA CANNON

'Big-hearted and poignant, Paper Cup is a joyous read' SARA SHERIDAN

'Paper Cup is very special indeed. Not only is it exquisitely written - and I mean catch-your-breath exquisite - the story is so...

Available Editions

EDITION Hardcover
ISBN 9781838855093
PRICE £14.99 (GBP)

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Average rating from 27 members

Featured Reviews

I don’t think I’ve adored a book this much since Shuggie Bain. Set in Glasgow, Kelly is a homeless woman who encounters a chain of events that push her to go back to her hometown on a pilgrimage. The language is astonishing and I was completely captured by the way Kelly saw the city. The picture she paints of homelessness is stark and very realistic. This is the kind of book that when you finish, you actually miss the characters for a long time afterwards. Can’t recommend it enough.

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As someone who has previously lived in Glasgow and who worked with homeless individuals in the city, I was immediately drawn to this book for obvious reasons.

I can often be critical of books which sentimentalise homelessness and poverty and give an impression of a lovely, wee community of people who are homeless but happy. I enjoyed this portrayal of the city of Glasgow and the descriptive realities that people who are homeless face on the street. The descriptions of the streets, the characters, the services available and staff who work within them were immediately recognisable to someone who has worked within this environment.

The language itself was also beautiful, incredibly realistic and will strike right at the heart of those who live in Scotland, particularly the West of Scotland. I am not sure how other non-natives may feel about it however I don't believe you would get an accurate portrayal of the story without it.

An excellent read from a very talented author I didn't know much about previously. I am now off to systematically go through her back catalogue!

Thanks to Netgalley and Canongate Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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This is such a brutally and beautifully raw read that is so honest and so gripping. It is well written with a heartbreaking storyline and well developed characters. I couldnt put this down and I will be thinking about this book and the characters for a long time to come.

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Glasgow novels are always good
But Paper Cup by Karen Campbell is magnificent. The writing, the characters, the perfect balance of it like meniscus. It’s beautiful and sad as rain at dusk, then a few pages later, warm and dry as a palm that’s been kneading dough. No matter where you are in the story, it’s clear and fresh and you can see all the way to the bottom, to the rocks and plants and your own shadow floating on the surface.
“Do I look like I button up the back?”
I can’t get over how pleased I am with this book. Kelly is entire and vivid, and she walks through a world real enough and strange enough that I kept thinking as I read, I must be dreaming this book, I must finish it in one sitting in case I wake up and it’s not here in front of me.
I wanted to tell people about this novel before I was a quarter of the way into it. at the halfway point I had texted people I hardly know to insist they pre-order this book. Everything about it is in the right place, and each sentence is a key part of the whole. Nothing is wasted.
I want to quote at least one sentence from almost every passage; I love the richness, the honesty, the specificity of Campbell’s prose. I identified with Kelly time and time again:
Forgotten gardens and stone angels, snips of song and snaps of weather: this novel is crammed with everything you need to keep yourself together as you read it, but barely. I hovered on the edge of tears again and again, and if you deal with synesthesia, beware.
The journey from Glasgow that Kelly undertakes is like something from old stories I loved as a child – pilgrimages, explorers – and Campbell spins it out so deftly that I read and read, ignoring everything. The writing just doesn’t falter.
At the halfway point, I was happy to discover there was so much of the story still to go. Dexy, a man who runs a hostel, and Jennifer, a journalist, a dog, all kinds of people fill in bits of this story without ever detracting from the pace of the book. And it’s clearly Kelly’s tale even as other voices weave in and out.
I won’t spoil the story by telling you any more than that the strands which build the completed web of this novel make something so much more than I expected that I am in awe. It’s exactly what I needed to read, it’s a magic. Read it. Share it. Reread it. My eventual paper copy will end up ecru and dogeared and marginalia-besmirched alongside about twenty other novels I go back to for solace. I will set something on fire if this novel doesn’t end up on the Booker long list at the very least.
I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for this honest review.

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I love the name of this book and I absolutely love the cover. The book itself is just as beautiful. It's a really stunning book, written in a really beautiful way. The characters are so vivid that you feel like you know them and you really want the best for them. Just wow. It is a story of how life can give you a massive bag full of lemons and how you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, find the beautiful things in life and find happiness in the small things in a journey that brings you back to knowing who you are and what things are truely important. It's really stunning.

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Wow, this novel packs a real punch. Beautifully written and a well woven story. This is one that you’ll fly through and wonder where the time went. Kelly is a character that will stay with me for some time.

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This is a Glasgow-eye view of life on the streets, featuring the gallus Kellie. Karen Campbell has a knack of bringing the lives and emotions of people from the margins of society to the fore and she has done it again with Paper Cup. My perception of refugees changed after I read “ This Is Where I Am” and now the spotlight has been turned onto homeless people. As Kellie herself cries, “ I’m a person! I’m a person, a person!”
Paper Cup is a Scottish masterpiece ; a beacon of compassion in our ever more self-centred world.

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A young woman is drunk and lost, with sore feet and a potty stuck on her head. She’s on a bench on her own and she doesn’t know how she got there. This is the first chapter of this book and it draws you in from the start. I expected us to follow her, but instead we track her quiet companion on the bench, a homeless woman called Kelly who’s trying to keep warm under some cardboard and newspapers. Introducing us to Kelly through the hen party is a brilliant way of getting us to first see her as others see her, and then gradually getting to know her as she is as we join her on her philosophical and literal journey.

The narrative is a relatively simple one, but many layered and carefully placed so we understand why Kelly does what she does, at least in part. The initial description of her daily tasklist, to keep warm, to get some food, to try and be clean, is exhausting. She has bright spots of nearly but not quite friendship but for each of those there’re three tales of being beaten, abused and/or mocked by people who should be looking out for others, people going out of their way to make her tough existence a little bit worse. I am lucky, I have never felt the crushing worry of being safe and warm, I have a roof and food. I do not think that others are somehow responsible for this life, that they didn’t work hard enough or their actions caused it. We are all 3 pay packets away, on average, after all. Wear through the patience of family and friends and soon enough you’re out of options in all but state support, and as we know, this is few and far between. It’s described in this book as not one net but a series of nets with big gaps to fall through, and some of this hopelessness is in Kelly’s telling of how she got where she is today. A series of unfortunate actions, some horrible people, her own pride - being told she has to be contactable without a phone or power, no access to computers and the ever present threat of ‘sanctions’ from an already meagre benefit.

A set of circumstances pushes Kelly to set off on a mission, of sorts, which sees her follow a pilgrimage trail in the South West of Scotland, setting out from her usual Glasgow spots. Along the way she meets good people, and not, and crucially she makes questionable decisions borne of necessity or driven by her inner demons. It’s a story of hopelessness and ultimately, the humanity that binds us together and keeps that hope alive. It’s also funny - the other characters are sharp witted and dry and there’s a gallows humour which keeps it from being too depressing.

I was rooting for Kelly, along with the people rooting for her whether she knew it or not. It’s so beautifully written and so specifically Scottish, with a smattering of Scots language, that it felt like home. It’s funny, and painful, and poignant and so compassionate. It might be a work of fiction but we all know Kelly. We’ve seen her, or him, sitting outside on the pavement with their paper cup, asking for nothing but 20p and possibly a sandwich. In this world, in 2022, this shouldn’t be happening but it still is - this series of nets lets people slip through. If nothing else, this book casts a light into that shadow and will hopefully encourage readers to volunteer, to add to that cup, to see that person as a person.

Recommended for anyone looking for a story about compassion, about the family you make rather than the one you’re born into. Adjacent to Shuggie Bain with a bit of Trainspotting thrown in.

Thanks to Netgalley and to Canongate books for the DRC. This is available to buy June 2nd 2022 - preorder now!

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Absolutely brilliant book. The descriptive writing, the character development, the chosen family, the journeys, the little side stories, the portrayal of addiction and homelessness and shame and hope, the portrayal of life. All of it is exquisitely and compassionately written. I read it in 2 sittings because I just couldn't stop joining Kelly on her journey. I think I'll be thinking about this book for a long while.

Thank you to Canongate and NetGalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for an honest review.

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