The House With The Green Shutters by George Douglas

The Mercat Press, 1986, 288p

The House With The Green Shutters cover

The House With The Green Shutters has an important place in Scottish literature as when it was originally published in 1901 it represented a break from the sentimentality of the Kailyard School and prefigured the work of Hugh MacDiarmid and Lewis Grassic Gibbon, among others. A warning, though. The book does contain a wheen of Scots words and phrases which may be a barrier to the more general reader.

The eponymous house, an imposing edifice in the town of Barbie, has been built by John Gourlay to reflect his position in the life of the town where he has a monopoly as a carrier. Gourlay has a “€œguid conceit of himself,”€ as we Scots say, and throws his weight about both metaphorically and – as he has a shortish temper – at times literally. His son, also called John, expects to inherit the carriage business and has neither the motivation nor aptitude to shine at school.

All begins to change with the return to Barbie from a sojourn in Aberdeen of James Wilson, whom Gourlay, in true Scottish fashion, at first dismisses due to his origins, (the, “Ah kent his faither,” reflex – see under ‘ken.’) Wilson soon sets himself up as a rival carrier. The opportunity the coming of the railway presents to Wilson gives him the lever to outwit Gourlay and precipitate a slow spiral of descent. Gourlay’€™s determination to outdo Wilson in everything leads him to send his son to University in Edinburgh where his character faults become magnified.

Throughout the book the author illuminates many aspects of the Scottish character as well as more general traits. The “€œbodies” – perhaps “sweetie wives” would be a more modern description – who gossip and scheme on street corners are especially well depicted. However, as perhaps reflects the times in which the book is set, the women characters are little more than cyphers.

The novel is apparently the first book in the English (sic) language read by Jorge Luis Borges (see under ‘criticism’) who thereafter, “€œwanted to be Scotch.”€ Bizarre.

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