Archives » Scottish Literature

King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett

Michael Joseph, 1982, 725 p, plus ii p frontispiece showing the lineage of Kings of Scotland (Alba) and Northumbria, ii p backispiece (I apologise for the coinage) of rulers of Orkney, Norway, Normandy and England, iii p maps of mid Europe in the 11th century, Alba (Scotland) and Northern England in AD 1050, and of the Orkney islands and Caithness of AD 1050, and ii p lineage of Danish and Norwegian rulers.

The sparseness of the historical record for Scotland in the Dark Ages leaves something of a blank canvas for the novelist to exploit. In Dunnett’s account of the life of Macbeth MacFinlay (whom Shakespeare portrayed as a villain) she has chosen to fill that canvas by conflating him with a certain Earl Thorfinn of Orkney. (See here.)

In Dunnett’s version, Thorfinn (in the book he is rarely referred to by his Christian baptismal name of Macbeth,) although the grandson of King Malcolm II is more proud of his Orcadian heritage than his Scottish one and keener for that to be passed on to his own sons, to whom he gives Norse names.

He is not the only character to have more than one name. His wife was born in Norway as Ingibjorg Arnason, has the baptismal name Margaret but is known to him as Groa (and in Gaelic as Gruoch.) Aged fourteen she was forced into marriage to a middle-aged Mormaer of Moray, Gillacomghain, who had killed Finnlaech, our hero Thorfinn’s stepfather. When Thorfinn in his turn killed Gillacomghain to regain his lands of Moray he married the widow.

Such was life for high-born women in the Dark Ages; destined only to cement alliances and to breed. (Spoiler alert [Really? Are the outlines of the story not well-known?]: she was to suffer a similar fate when Thorfinn is killed by the man who became Malcolm III who also made her his wife.)

This was the time when the Norse kingdoms had only recently become (at least nominally) Christian and a fair bit of the narrative deals with the merits of the Celtic as opposed to the Roman Church in particular as Thorfinn is trying to unify the Kingdom of Alba’s only loosely held regions of Fife, Angus, Buchan, Caithness etc. Though Thorfin has some sway in Galloway (and Cumbria plus alliances with Ireland) the Lothians were territory disputed with Northumbria. England’s regions (Mercia, Wessex, East Anglia) likewise owed allegiance to one king but their rulers had ambitions of their own.

The novel’s main attention, though, is given to Thorfinn’s Scottish lands and those in Orkney but ranges widely over the Northern Europe of the time and has mentions of King Stephen of Hungary. Thorfinn even makes a pilgrimage to Rome to seek the Pope’s imprimatur. In his youth he had spent some time in the English court of King Canute whose wife Emma (another who had been taken as a wife by her first’s successor,) after her second husband’s death still has her matrilineal fingers spread across England and Normandy.

At times, then, the book reads more like a historical account than a novel. Shifting alliances and manoeuvrings make up most of the intrigue with the interests of the Godwinsson family and William the Bastard of Normandy (which would eventually collide at the Battle of Hastings) begin to loom large towards the book’s end.

King Hereafter can be seen as one of many attempts to rescue the historical Macbeth from the obloquy to which Shakespeare consigned him.

His periglour Sulien here says to him, “‘Men will look back and see a king who strove to build for his people. …. The name each man leaves is a small thing compared with the mark he puts on the world.’”

The book is long, with fairly small print, and paints Thorfinn and Groa’s relationship sympathetically and humanly but also serves as a primer on late 11th century history.

Pedant’s corner:- dwarved (dwarfed,) manoeuvering (manoeuvring,) unfocussed (unfocused,) aureoles (areolas- or areolae,) chorussed (chorused?) pleat (it was hair, so ‘plait’,) basalm (balsam,)

The Puritans by Guy McCrone

Black & White, 221 p. In Wax Fruit, 1993. First published in 1947.

This is the continuing chronicle of the Moorhouse family (from Antimacassar City and The Philistines) who have risen from a farmhouse in Ayrshire to prosperity in Victorian Glasgow, though much of the tale in this one is set in Vienna. The focus is on the relationship between Phoebe, the youngest Moorhouse, and Henry Hayburn who had become engaged towards the end of The Philistines even though he and his family had lost their money in the crash of the City Bank of Glasgow.

Suitable work for Henry being scarce he takes the opportunity presented by Maximilian Hirsch to oversee the setting up of a factory in Vienna to produce new agricultural machinery. First he travels there alone and lodges with the Klem family in a less salubrious part of the city but comes back to marry Phoebe and take her there. They take to the life in Vienna so much that they can laugh at their lack of guilt at availing themselves of the pleasure-grounds in the Prater in Vienna on a Sunday. Henry has few outlets beyond his work but Phoebe makes friends with Hirsch’s maiden aunts.

However, Aunt Bell back in Glasgow is displeased when Phoebe decides she will have the baby she is now expecting in Vienna and intrigues to have her come to Glasgow for the birth – with tragic consequences.

The writing in these tales never rises above the workmanlike. Too much is told not shown. Before Henry ever reaches Vienna the introduction to the narrative of Sepi Klem only ever portends one outcome. She performs much the same function in complicating our main characters’ lives as Lucy Rennie did in The Philistines. I note that – again like Lucy – she is a singer (though in Sepi’s case an aspiring one to begin with) a potential career of which her parents disapprove, wishing her to marry safe bank clerk Willi Pommer. Her flightiness is highlighted by her leaving home without explanation not long after Phoebe arrives in Vienna.

Her return months later allows McCrone to further contrast life in Austria and Scotland by expressing Herny’s internal discomfort of the Klem family’s display of emotion in his origins; coming “from an Island where the show of feeling is counted as weakness.”

The Wax Fruit trilogy is not great literature by any means but it is quick and easy to read.

Pedant’s corner:- “doing it’s best” (its best,) “slid them over over the stanchions of the pier” (has one ‘over’ too many,) “whether Sir Charles was pleased or sorry about his, Henry could not discover” (about this,) hoofs (in my youth the plural of hoof was always hooves,) “He took of his hat” (off,) Island (this was not a proper noun; ‘island’,) “for her seriously to flaunt Bel” (to flout Bel,) “the Hirschs’ landau” (the Hirsches’ landau,) bouganvilia (bouganvillea.) “‘But what’s wrong?’ She asked.” (But what’s wrong?’ she asked.”)

O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker

Weidenfeld & Nicolson Essentials, 2021, 212p, plus vi p Introduction by Maggie O’Farrell First published 1991.

From the outset we know where this tale of growing up as a misfit is going; Barker shows us in her prelude, titled Janet. This is not foreshadowing as such – it goes beyond prolepsis even – but it does set up an intriguing question. Why will what Barker tells us happened, happen? Why was Janet’s misadventure so easily glossed over? What was it about her that made her dismissable? But this is arguably fairer on the reader than Kate Atkinson’s revelation in A God in Ruins which turned upside down what we thought we had learned in all its pages up to that point.

Some reviewers have observed similarities to Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle (written much earlier than O Caledonia) but the characters of Cassandra Mortain and Janet are very different and Barker is a much subtler writer but I did wonder while I was reading O Caledonia if Kate Atkinson was familiar with Barker’s novel. I found the weird incidents of Janet’s childhood oddly similar to the manifold earlier days of Ursula Todd in Life After Life; there were perhaps even greater similarities to Atkinson’s first novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum (from 1995.) Still, it allows Barker the acid observation “The subject was closed in favour of the living, who offer continuous material for persecution.”

Janet is a child in wartime living in the manse inhabited by her grandfather and subject to many an admonitory sermon. Scotland’s religious heritage, though never pushed, is an intermittent drum beat through the book as in, “At this time there were many Polish officers in the village. The Marine hotel had been requisitioned for them. They were popular with the lonely girls and the more flighty wives, so that after the war some stayed on and married, while others left behind girls who were even lonelier now, alone with tiny children in the unrelenting chill of a Calvinist world.” (This sort of memory of Polish soldiers was familiar to me from the tales told by an acquaintance who had lived in Kelso during the Second World War.) Barker also has Janet remark, “There seemed no place for gallantry and romance among Calvinists,” and, in a particularly self-flagellating moment “the nature of Caledonia was a pitiless nature and her own was no better.” That it had unintended effects is illlustrated by a passage wherein nannies asked children if they had done what they should today (ie moved their bowels) and unwittingly unleashed dissembling- “a horde of artful dodgers on the world.”

It is when the family inherits Auchnashaugh, a crumbling pile in the Highlands, that Janet’s alienation blossoms. She resents her younger siblings, fails to comprehend adult concerns or live up to their expectations and when older retreats into books, having an appetite for things beyond her age, Latin and Greek tags and the like. Her experience is summed up by Proust’s phrase ‘l’étouffoir familial’ the family suffocation chamber. Of how many sensitive souls has that been true.

She similarly fails to fit in at St Uncumba’s, the boarding school she is sent to far south in England where her distaste for, and inability at, games and liking for literature are mocked. Until she learns to dissemble.

The signal feature of her otherness is her adoption of a not yet fledged jackdaw whom she names Claws and who is her constant companion at Auchnashaugh.

O Caledonia is far too little known for a book so accomplished. How it did not get onto the list of 100 best Scottish books is beyond me. Perhaps its reissue far too late (2021) could explain it.

Pedant’s corner:- The young Janet sees the beam of a lighthouse sweep her bedroom (but this was in wartime; the lighthouses were switched off as part of the blackout precautions,) “she sucked a vengeful Pandrop” (a pan drop,) “the baby prone within” (the baby supine is more likely,) “golden rod” (goldenrod,) “je men fous” (je m’en fous,) “Miss Wales’ grizzled hair” (Wales’s,) “the gaping maw of the furnace” (stomachs do not gape,) standing in a great Victorian cemetery in Glasgow for her grandfather’s funeral (at that time in Scotland women did not go to interments, still less children,) clipe (usually spelled clype,) “Sir Patrick Spens’ lords (Spens’s,) Sawney Bean is said to have carried out his cannibalistic activities on the Aberdeenshire coast (most accounts put this legendary tale in Ayrshire,) “True Thomas’ faery queen” (Thomas’s,) “Euripides’ Medea” (Euripides’s,) “Barr’s Iron Brew” (the proprietary name is Irn Bru,) “came Francis’ voice” (Francis’s,) “the war memorial” (War Memorial – used later,) “‘a wee Doc and Doris afore ye gang awa’!’” (usually spelled Deoch-an-Doris,) Kiichen (a manuscript misreading of Küchen?) “Watt and Grants” (Watt and Grant’s,) swop (swap,) “Francis’ voice” (Francis’s,) “she was couched out there” (crouched makes more sense,) “Propertius’ poem” (Propertius’s,) “Tiresias’ description” (Tiresias’s) “Claws’ residence” (Claws’s,) “jeune jille” (jeune fille,) “passage from the Georgies” (the Georgics that would be,) “Orpheus’ final loss” (Orpheus’s.)

ParSec 8

I believe ParSec’s issue 8 has now gone live:-

I’ve not yet delved into this issue but it ought to contain my reviews of Beethoven’s Assassins by Andrew Crumey, Chimera by Alice Thompson, and Umbilical by Teika Marija Smits.


Murder in the Merchant City by Angus McAllister

Polygon, 2019, 281 p.

The book’s title perhaps says it all – there are murders, some scenes are set in Glasgow’s Merchant City – but is a trifle misleading. The action centres not on the Merchant City itself but on the so-called Merchant City Health Centre, a massage parlour – and an establishment with all the connotations that description of a business inevitably invokes. This is staffed by women in white coats – at least until they take them off to get down to offering extras. The most important of these to the plot are the beautiful Miranda, with the beaming smile and that way of saying, “How are you?” to her regulars, no nonsense up-front Claudia, the conventionally attractive Candy, the more homely in style Annette, and new girl Justine.

The narrative is mainly double stranded, Annette, from whose viewpoint we see the goings-on in the brothel (let’s not mince words,) and barman Jack who is resorting to paying for his sexual pleasures after his wife left him some time ago. There are also chapters from the murderer’s viewpoint, outlining his modus operandi. A psychologist later on suggests that because the victims are all men the murderer is in fact a woman but the treatment of his contribution leaves little doubt that view is a red herring.

The first victim was one of the Health Centre’s clients but that could have been coincidence. When the second also turns out to be a patron Annette in particular feels they ought to contact the police but Edna at front of house does not want to attract their attention. But it comes anyway. There are subplots involving the proprietor of a free newspaper who wants to rid Glasgow of “havens of vice” and a client of the Health Centre who beats up one of the sex-workers. (The revenge Claudia takes on him is well deserved and condign.)

Murder in the Merchant City does not have as many amusing moments as McAllister’s previous Glasgow murder novel Close Quarters, possibly because its contents do not range about Glasgow’s West End quite so much. Its characters are well enough rounded, though some occupy the novel as representatives of types and perhaps Annette comes a bit too close to the designation “whore with a heart of gold.” Her motives are sound and reflect well on her.

It’s an enjoyable enough read and comes as close to a “cosy crime” novel as any modern example of the genre.

Pedant’s corner:- “none of the other girls were using it” (none …. was using it.)

Night Boat by Alan Spence

Canongate, 2013, 456 p

Spence’s previous novel The Pure Land  in retrospect represents a pivot in his writing. Its novelisation of the life of Thomas Blake Glover, who helped the industrialisation of Japan in the nineteenth century, signalled his fascination with that country and a departure from writing prose using Scottish settings. A poet as well as a novelist, his interest in and composition of haiku are well suited to this present endeavour, an exploration of the life of the Zen Buddhist master who invented the koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” That monk was Hakuin Ekaku, who was born Nagasawa Iwajiro but was given – or took – the names Ekaku (Wise Crane) and Hakuin (Hidden-in-Whiteness) later in life. Spence’s latest novel Mister Timeless Blyth also deals with someone deeply involved with Japanese culture.

Night Boat is necessarily steeped in the Zen Buddhism practice of seeking enlightenment. We learn that Hakuin was initially inspired by his mother’s religious devotion but also that he was not immune to the attractions of the temporal world, only chose to ignore them. To that end he travelled through Japan seeking the most insightful teachers.

The ascetic lifestyle of a Zen Buddhist monk is a constant theme. Their frugality and distaste for waste even leads them to rinse their bowls and drink the liquid. That it also requires a form of begging, or at least reliance on charity, means it is actually a kind of parasitism. (Mind you, the same could be said of all religions and the ways they sustain themselves.)

Hakuin’s composure is illustrated by the incident when a young pregnant woman claimed he was the father of her child. Despite the loss to his reputation this represents he merely responded by saying “Is that so?” and took the child into his care. (The woman later relented and named the real father whereupon Hakuin relinquished the child and said he was glad the child now had a father.)

At a gathering of monks Hakuin relates the story of a country bumpkin who boasted about his visit to Kyoto before someone asked him about the Shirakawa River (which is nothing but a small stream) and he said it was night time when his boat sailed on it and he couldn’t really see it. In other words, his visit was a fabrication, a tale he’d made up. In that sense, all novels are night boats and it highlights the question of how much of this Night Boat is based on known facts about Hakuin and how much due to Spence’s novelistic imagination. This, of course, can be asked of any biographical novel but it is perhaps unwise of an author to draw attention to it as it tends to undermine the artifice, subvert the suspension of disbelief.

The text is sprinkled with haiku. As someone with no knowledge of the life and works of Hakuin, (he was also an artist, several references are made to his paintings, especially of Mount Fuji,) I have to assume that these haiku are translations of originals written by Hakuin rather than invented by Spence. Most of these depend for their effect on sparseness or else embody enigmas.

We also have the posing of several koans of which perhaps the most resonant is “What now?”

Spence’s writing here is always well more than adequate to the task and his research has obviously been formidable but there is something almost pointless about Hakuin’s search for meaning, something akin to considering the number of angels capable of dancing on the head of a pin. Beyond informing about his life and thought those of us who had little prior knowledge regarding Hakuin what utility does it have? Granted, it does illustrate a small part of the human condition but I doubt there are many larger lessons to be drawn from it.

The cover illustration’s a cracker though. (Fuji from the Ford at Kanaya, by Hokusai, Katsushika.)

Pedant’s corner:- “There was story” (there was a story,) Shotestu (elsewhere Shotatsu.) “‘You have showed one-pointed determination’” (You have shown,) sunk (sank,) can‘t (can’t.)

Sea-Green Ribbons by Naomi Mitchison

Illustrated by Barbara Robertson.  Balnain Books, 1991, 139 p.

This is the memoir of Sarah Werden, born out of wedlock since her father, being an apprentice printer, could not marry. Sarah was brought up during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms as a Leveller, believing that “land should be divided so evenly out that every man or woman should have a fair and equitable share for living peaceably as did Adam and Eve before the fall,” her sea-green ribbons a sign that the wearer was against kings and bishops and lords of all kinds. When her father was time-served the family moved to the printers’ quarter of London, living next to Elizabeth Lilburne, wife of the former Parliamentarian Colonel who had begun writing pamphlets against how the new Cromwellian dispensation has turned out, that for the poor nothing has changed. Sarah too wonders, “How is it that the worst always comes to the top, as bubbles come up through milk boiling and burst?”

From her father she learned the printing trade but was married off to a coarse baker from whose philandering and abuse she soon felt forced to leave, finding refuge with a group of Diggers near Cobham but they are subject to the libel and scorn of the locals and driven out, whereon she fell in with a family of Quakers before eventually setting off for the New World.

Mitchison inhabits Sarah’s world for us impeccably, immersing us in the times with frequent mentions of Gerrard Winstanley, Thomas Rainsborough and the Putney Debates, and with Sarah’s constant reflection on religion. It is all artifice of course, but the book is still noteworthy for the facility with which it was written considering Mitchison was in her nineties at the time. It was in fact her last novel to be published and makes for a fine epitaph.

Pedant’s corner:- spiritiual (spiritual,) “Mr Yates’ press” (Yates’s,) “could amost have been dancing” (is ‘amost’ an archaic spelling for almost? Or is this just a typo?) “Mr James’ voice” (James’s,) “so that I could not if I would naysay him” (seems to be lacking a word or two,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech (x 3,) plowshare (even if by this time she was in the American colonies surely Sarah would spell this ‘ploughshare’?)

A Gift From Nessus by William McIlvanney

Mainstream Publishing, 1992, 221 p. First published 1968.

McIlvanney’s writing is held in high regard and now fond memory. This is a book I bought years ago (vaguely wondering if I had already read it) but have only got round to now. (I hadn’t.) It was his second novel, written and published quite a few years before Docherty, the book which would cement his reputation, though, with Laidlaw and The Papers of Tony Veitch he would subsequently be credited as being the “onlie begetter” of the slew of Scottish crime fiction now known as tartan noir.

Eddie Cameron is a sales rep frustrated by his job and life in general. His marriage to Allison has settled into a kind of indifference leavened only by the presence of two young daughters, Alice and Helen, his car is a liability, his interactions with colleagues perfunctory. Compounding his dissatisfaction is the lingering guilt he feels over his affair with schoolteacher Margaret Sutton. The novel is an examination of his swithering over in which direction he should steer his life. Leave his job and go back to working in a bookshop? Quit his marriage and set up with Margaret? Or let things remain as they are. Eddie does not want to cause pain to anyone but things have, of course, gone too far for that. Whatever decision he makes will inevitably grieve someone. The strings of his life begin unravelling when he is accosted one day by Margaret’s brother telling him to stay away from her. Later it turns out his boss, Jim Morton, has also been told of the affair.

While most of the book is focused on Eddie and his thoughts, some scenes are seen from other’s viewpoints, Jim Morton, Margaret, Allison. That chapter on Allison though comes very late in the book; too late really. Her motivations and their intended effect on Eddie ought to have been established earlier.

The characters are all well drawn, recognisably people but McIlvanney’s writing here is consciously literary, his intention in that regard overtly signalled by the classical allusion in the book’s title. However, the prose is at times overwritten, strives too much for weightiness.

There are some lighter moments, though. At one point Eddie reflects on that Scottish institution, the Burns Supper, where, lubricated of course by alcohol, “Men who never contemplated poetry from one year to the next listened to reciters as if they were so many burning bushes. The image of Burns, Scotland’s Jack of all men, would recede further and further until it vanished altogether.”

Pedant’s corner:- “in hawk to” (x 2, in hock,) miniscule (minuscule,) mantlepiece (mantelpiece – this spelling appears later.) “‘I’ll give it to you square, ’Morton was saying’” (has its end quotation mark misplaced.) “‘Everyone of those damned items is justified’” (Every one of those,) “rarified atmosphere” (rarefied,) “brought him to a crescendo” (the crescendo is the bringing, not its end,) “the callous developed by long contact” (callus.) “This was the first word he had heard her speak” (yet, eight lines later is revealed a previous exchange, ‘Excuse me. Is anyone sitting here?’ ‘No. Not at all.’) unsubstantial (insubstantial,) haranging (haranguing,) “vocal chords” (cords,) staunched (x 3, stanched,) focussed (focused.) Could’nt (Couldn’t.)

Fishnet by Kirstin Innes

Black & White, 2018, 345 p.

I read and reviewed Innes’s second novel Scabby Queen two years ago. Fishnet was her first novel and her expertise as a writer is evident from the start.

Six years after her sister, Rona, had disappeared, Fiona Leonard learns that Rona had been making her living as a prostitute. This sends Fiona anew into a search for Rona, trying to track her down, to contact people from Rona’s past, a search complicated by having daughter Bethan to worry about, and an office job as a filing clerk to maintain. In the end her search becomes a quest into the sex industry, what leads people to that line of work, how they feel about it.

The text is interspersed with extracts from prostitutes’ blogs, their online adverts and a few client’s comments on rating sites. Most (though not all) of the clients only want what these adverts call the “girlfriend experience” – vanilla sex, a kiss and a cuddle, a sympathetic ear.

A few passages towards the start and end of the book give us some of Rona’s experiences in her own words.

It is all extremely well written with rounded characters – nobody here is a stereotype, all impress as living, breathing humans.

As Fiona delves deeper into the culture of the sex industry the book almost by default makes the case for better understanding of the nature of such work, that attitudes to prostitution, the perception of it as something to be deplored and whose workers need rescuing from it, comes from a deep-rooted (and no doubt patriarchal) sense that women don’t – indeed can’t – like sex, that those who sell it have no choice in the matter and are necessarily being exploited. A prostitute calling herself Sonja tells Fiona, “‘What people call “the sex industry” is not always, not completely, a bad thing. That just because a person sells their sexual skills, it does not mean that their life is – bam! – forever ruined.’” (Sonja is herself engaged to a man who knows what her line of work is and is not much troubled by it, and later they get married.)

However, the women Fiona meets and talks to are by and large not “street girls” nor those who have been trafficked for the purpose. Instead, they work for themselves, from home (incalls) or occasionally in clients’ hotel rooms (outcalls,) in what might be called the more salubrious end of the sex industry. They also tend to look out for each other. I idly wondered if all sex work became more like this, as well as not being criminalised nor kept under the carpet, would there even be an insalubrious aspect of it?

Innes’s extensive research is nevertheless worn lightly, the knowledge she imparts about the sex industry is unfolded organically, never gratuitously. The story within Fishnet is compelling and its telling assured.

Pedant’s corner:- “In a dumpster” (this is not a Scottish – nor British – usage,) “shrunk away” (shrank away,) a missing quote mark at the start of a piece of dialogue, “fresh air kniving my skin” (knifing my skin,) “I take fulsome, competent notes” (the context was not one of unnecessary, over the top, praise, or oleaginous [which is what fulsome means,] but of excessive attention to detail,) “pyjamed limbs” (pyjama’d limbs,) shrunk (shrank.)


The Philistines by Guy McCrone

Black & White, 1993, 190 p. In Wax Fruit. First published 1947.

Well, it didn’t. Improve that is. The faults that beset Antimacassar City are still to the fore here. The focus of this second in the trilogy is on the youngest of the Moorhouse brothers, David, who begins to wonder, despite never having formed any attachment of the sort, if he ought to take himself a wife. He consults his sister-in-law Bel who asks if there is anyone who has shown any interest in him. There is of course; one Grace Dermott, whose ageing father is the head of Dermott Ships Limited. This would be another advantageous match for the family, whose members seem to be able to climb the social ladder almost effortlessly. Not quite as advantageous as eldest brother Mungo’s marriage into the Ayrshire quality (shipping was after all still ‘trade’ in those days) but good enough.

The fly in the ointment comes with the appearance in the tale of the Moorhouse’s former neighbour from the next door farm in Ayrshire, a childhood friend of David’s, Lucy Rennie, who has made a name for herself singing under the under the name Lucia Reni.

This is fiction designed as entertainment and also to appeal to a certain kind of municipal pride. Too much is told, not shown, the characters resemble puppets, present more to enable the plot than to live and breathe for themselves, and McCrone is keen to insert snippets of Glasgow’s history of the times. In addition he shies away from describing the compromises and accommodations Lucy had made in order to become a reasonably successful singer, merely hinting at past liaisons. Then again I don’t suppose on first publication in 1947 that any such content would have been comfortable to the douce readership he seems to have aimed for.

Pedant’s corner:- “In a year or to” (two,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech inside a sentence (x 2.) “Etiquette was being flaunted at every turn” (was being flouted,) “a childhood’s friend” (normally not rendered with an apostrophe. ‘a childhood friend’.) “The entire Butter family were at home” (that ‘entire’ makes the subject of the verb singular; ‘the entire family was at home’.) Ditto “Everybody that was anybody …. were filing into her drawing room” (everybody …. was filing into.)

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