Weekend by William McIlvanney

Sceptre, 2007

Weekend cover

McIlvanney is one of the lauded lions of Scottish literature, his early novels winning awards and praise in equal measure. He then veered off a bit into writing about a detective in Laidlaw and The Papers Of Tony Veitch, though these novels were also well received. I wasn’t taken so much with The Big Man, even if others were, and thought Strange Loyalties (again about Jack Laidlaw) plus The Kiln a return to form. It was a long wait – ten years – before Weekend was published.

The Sceptre paperback comes with a variety of encomia on the back cover; McIlvanney’s star is still high – and deservedly so. His ease with prose is again in evidence but there is more than a hint that he may be striving for literariness too strongly. Weekend is yet another multi-stranded narrative (I seem to be reading little else these days.) However, this one has so many changes of viewpoint it would be easy to lose track. These shifts are exacerbated by the fact that many of the segments start with no clue as to which character’s the point of view is. Moreover some of the segments (there are no long passages that could be regarded as chapters) are extremely brief; one of them is less than a line long. The novel also loops back on itself; as if it were written by one of its own characters. A conceit too far?

The action of the book, as its title suggests, is compressed into a short time scale. The main setting is a study residency in a converted mansion on a Scottish island. Again this is a touch recursive, literary figures doing and discussing literary things in a piece of literature. Is the general public as fascinated by writers’ doings as writers are that it wants to read about them all the time? Compare A L Kennedy’s Everything You Need which I reviewed recently and which also featured writers on an island – though for longer than a weekend.

I should talk, though. I do occasionally attend Science Fiction conventions. (I’ve not yet stooped to writing about one in my own fiction, however.)

In Weekend, talks are given at the residency, assignations are made or happened upon, a virginity is lost, a marriage falls apart, another ends naturally but devastatingly, lives are altered, decisions made. Within all this some of the characters are more fleshed out than others and the events are latterly interspersed with disquisitions on the meaning of the Oedipus story and the exact nature of the riddle of the Sphinx, or, rather, its unravelling. Not a simple read, then, but one which rewards close attention.

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