And The Land Lay Still by James Robertson

Penguin, 2011, 671p.

 And The Land Lay Still cover

This is an ambitious novel which attempts to encapsulate the Scottish experience from the Second World War till the aftermath of devolution – an endeavour in which it succeeds admirably. As such it can be at times something of a history lesson but the outlaying of political events is almost incidental, the focus is always on the characters and their relationships both with each other and the nation as a whole.

Set mainly in and around the fictional Central Scotland towns/villages of Wharryburn and Drumkirk but never fearing to venture further afield, there is a multiplicity of narrative viewpoints. We have photographer Michael Pendreich, son of his fellow photographer father Angus; Don Lennie and his friend, a troubled former Far East PoW Jack Gordon; the original Mr Bond, an employee of the Secret Service, who is given the job of monitoring nationalist sentiment in Scotland; journalist Ellen Imlach; Tory MP David Eddelstane and not a few others. The plot hangs around an exhibition of his late father’s work which Michael is arranging. The various characters’€™ stories are intertwined and overlapped, elaborated and refined; all against the unfolding backdrop of the ups and downs of the campaign for an independent Scotland from the removal of the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey in 1950 and its return in Arbroath Abbey onwards. Along the way Robertson allows some of his characters to express that socialist viewpoint and analysis of affairs which is rarely heard nowadays but was at one time so common. The book illustrates how much has changed in such a relatively short time.

At once nostalgic and elegiac, at times verging on the mystical, And The Land Lay Still is nevertheless somehow right. To anyone who lived through the latter half of the twentieth century in Scotland, the background events will strike resonances and evoke memories (even of things all but forgotten.) There is, too, a sense of roads not taken, of unfinished business, of resolutions to be made.

The writing is measured, assured, agreeably subtle and, despite the page length, economical.

For anyone interested in the recent Scottish experience or in Scottish literature in general this is a novel that should not be missed.

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  1. And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson « Pining for the West

    […] It was Jack who recommended that I should read And the Land Lay Stiil by James Robertson, he thought it was great, and I have to agree. It was first published in 2010 and it’s quite a chunkster at 671 pages. It’s written in six parts and it involves quite a lot of characters who at times don’t seem to have anything to do with each other but their stories all link up eventually. (You can read Jack’s much fuller review here.) […]

  2. Peggy Ann

    Excellent Jack, I’ll put it on my radar for next year. I like the title too.

  3. jackdeighton

    Peggy Ann,
    The book is a cracker.

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