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.

Tags: , , ,

2 comments

Comments RSS feed for this post

  1. Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon – A Son of the Rock -- Jack Deighton

    […] Sunset Song in the main tells the story of Chris Guthrie, daughter of an overbearing father, John, and a mother, Jean, who is so ground down by childbirth that she kills herself and her young twins when she finds herself pregnant for the sixth time. Kinraddie is said by a new minister of the local kirk, a man called Gibbon, to be “fathered between a kailyard and a bonny brier bush in the lee of a house with green shutters,” despite their being no house with green shutters in the whole of Kinraddie. This of course is the author placing his novel firmly within the ongoing sweep of Scottish literature. […]

  2. Gillespie by J MacDougall Hay – A Son of the Rock -- Jack Deighton

    […] in 1979 it was hailed in some quarters as if it was some sort of lost classic, compared to The House with the Green Shutters, with which it has some thematic similarities. Alasdair Gray describes Gillespie as having “the […]

Leave a Reply

free hit counter script