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The Overhaul by Kathleen Jamie

Picador, 2012, 59 p

 The Overhaul cover

Winner of the 2012 Costa Poetry Award, shortlisted for the 2012 T S Eliot Prize.

35 poems, most one pagers, one six pages, the rest two. 2 are eftir Hölderlin (as is one in Jamie’s later collection The Bonniest Companie). Hölderlin seems to be one of her favourite models. Most poems here are in English with the odd Scots word but some are entirely Scots. Nature, or those working in the outdoors, is an inspiration for many and there is an abiding seriousness to her poems, though she is not beyond essaying a pun for a last line. An odd quirk was that some poems had missing full stops at their conclusion, as if they’re unfinished. Understandable enough for those two entitled Fragment 1 and Fragment 2.

I most enjoyed Excavation and Recovery with its evocation of deep time partly because I have seen (in Perth and Abernethy Museums respectively) the log boat whose archaeological recovery it partly describes and a depiction of the dig process.

Divided City by Theresa Breslin

Corgi, 2006, 236 p. One of the Scotsman’s 20 Scottish Books Everyone Should Read.

Divided City cover

One night Graham (surname never specified) is taking a short cut – against which his parents have repeatedly warned him – on his way home from football training when he witnesses a gang chasing and stabbing a young lad whom they call “asylum scum”. Graham comforts the wounded boy, Kyoul, uses the mobile phone Kyoul has dropped to call an ambulance and accompanies him to the hospital then slips away but not before Kyoul asks him to take a message, and the phone, to his girlfriend Leanne. This leads to Graham almost by accident involving another boy from training, Joe Flaherty (who is of course from across the sectarian divide to which the book’s title mainly refers) in finding Leanne’s house. She is grateful but has kept her relationship with Kyoul from her own parents and so asks them to visit Kyoul for her. This strand of the book where they find common purpose off the training pitch is intertwined with the background of both footballers.

Graham’s Granda Reid is a proud Orangeman who wants Graham to march in the big Orange Walk which is coming up. Graham’s parents have always resisted pressure to make him take part when he was younger saying he should make his own mind up when he is old enough. However, this is the year he must do so. Joe’s family members are equally committed to upholding their Catholic traditions.

But this is where Divided City is too diagrammatic. Nearly every domestic conversation in the book centres on sectarianism and how the “others” mistreat “our” side.

There were other infelicities. The football training is for a youth team to be known as Glasgow City which is about to take part in an inter-cities youth competition. Here credulity becomes strained. If both boys were as good at football as the novel tells us they’d most likely already be attached to a club and probably not allowed to play for anyone else. Another unconvincing aspect is that Leanne is said to be “not yet sixteen” but she met Kyoul who had wandered in off the street at one of Glasgow University’s school open days and both ended up looking at a stand where they were each wondering what courses they would choose and struck up a conversation. Fifteen is rather young for such a trip. Also, the first time home ground of Rangers is mentioned it’s by a supporter, who calls it “Ibrox Park.” A fan would just say “Ibrox”. Similarly we get “the Celtic Parkhead stadium”. Then there is the description of an Old Firm game where the phrase “unleashed a stinging right kick” is used. It’s called a shot, not a kick. Later one fan is enjoined to ‘Watch the play’. It would be ‘Watch the game’.

Granted the dilemma of an asylum seeker from a ‘White List’ country, deemed to be safe but which isn’t, may need elucidating to a wider audience, yet while the novel is even-handed enough as between Protestant and Catholic viewpoints I struggled to see for what audience this could have been written, whom it was intended to educate. The book’s cover is emblazoned with the phrase “Carnegie Medal winning author” implying it’s for young adults. But young adults in Glasgow will know about sectarianism, those elsewhere likely not care (Northern Ireland excepted.) The incidental illustration of the usual parental restrictions on adolescent comings and goings do not expand the scope. Divided City’s earlier chapters reminded me of a certain kind of not very good Science Fiction which doesn’t trust its reader to make the connections, so too much is spelled out. And there is an overuse of exclamation marks. I would submit that YA readers deserve better.

There is a good novel about sectarianism – and/or football – in Glasgow out there. This isn’t it.

Pedant’s corner:- “the dark openings of the tenement building mawed at him” (the openings stomached at him?) the local senior boy’s club” (boys’ club, I think,) refers to winning the League Championship (it’s just “winning the League” not League Championship,) Rangers’ (Rangers’s,) ‘How are we going to do that without getting caught.’ (Needs a question mark, not a full stop.)

Waverley by Walter Scott

Or: Tis Sixty Years Since.

The Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels, Edinburgh University Press , 2012, 368 p, plus 90 p Essay on the Text, 38 p Emendation list, 2 p list of end-of-line “hard” hyphens, 26 p Historical Note, 98 p Explanatory Notes, 21 p Glossary, i p Dedication, vi p General Introduction to the Edinburgh Edition, and iii p Acknowledgements. One of the Scotsman’s 20 Scottish Books Everyone Should Read.
See my review of The Heart of Mid-Lothian for the intent behind the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels.

Waverley cover

This is the one that started it all off for Scott in the prose sense and was also the beginning of the historical novel in the Western tradition. Its title has resounded down through the years, giving its name to a whole series of Scott’s novels, to Edinburgh’s main railway station, to a kind of pen nib (They come as a boon and a blessing to men, the Pickwick, the Owl and the Waverley Pen,) a class of GWR locomotives and to the last ocean-going paddle steamer in the world.

Our hero, Edward Waverley, English and heir to an estate there, is encouraged by his uncle to take up a commission in the army. After arriving with his troop in Scotland he receives leave of absence to visit an old friend of his father, the irredeemably Jacobite Baron Bradwardine of Tully-Veolan. Events and an indisposition contrive to keep him there beyond his commanding officer’s pleasure, an unfortunate circumstance as this is 1745 and historic events are afoot. His troop has shown rebellious leanings and this along with his absence leads to his commission being revoked. At the same time comes news his father has been disgraced and removed from his government post in London. The friendship Waverley has struck at Tully-Veolan with Fergus Mac-Ivor (also known as Vich Ian Vohr, the latest of his line to accede to this honorific,) Waverley’s change in circumstances and the interference in Waverley’s affairs by one Donald Bean Lean, delivers him into the company of Charles Edward Stuart and the Jacobite Army now in Edinburgh. Waverley’s presence as an English adherent is a boost to the Prince’s cause, as it promises more such support.

As a member of the Jacobite Army Waverley takes part in the Battle of Prestonpans – or Preston as it is usually described by Scott (except when Jacobites call it Gladsmuir,) where he saves the life of a Government officer, Colonel Talbot, who knows his father well. Waverley goes all the way down to Derby and back up before he is separated from the retreating army during a skirmish at Clifton south of Penrith and makes his way to London to try to reinstate his reputation with the paroled Colonel Talbot’s help.

I would not advise anyone to start their reading of Scott’s novels with this book. In addition to his usual long-windedness, here it is more or less obvious that Scott is here feeling his way into the writing of a novel. In the last chapter “A Postscript, which should have been a Preface” Scott informs us he had at one time abandoned the book but some years later came across the papers again and went on to complete it, an interval which could not have helped. Later novels of his are more approachable but in Waverley there are many longueurs in the early passages and too much of a rush towards the end. That Scott himself makes the point in the text, “earlier events are studiously dwelt upon, that you, kind reader, may be introduced to the character rather by narrative, than by the duller medium of direct description; but when the story draws near its close we hurry over the circumstances,” does not render this imbalance any less marked. Certain of the characters are fond of Latin tags; which was to be a recurrent trait in Scott’s works. Some names are also clearly jocular, there is a Laird of Killancureit, and a pair of lawyers, Messrs Clippurse and Hookem.

Waverley is, though, necessary reading for anyone interested in the history of the Scottish novel.

Pedant’s corner:- By my reckoning, when Waverley was first published in 1814 it was more like seventy years since the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, not sixty. The narrator’s comment that the novel was being written in 1805 would make more sense but the Essay on the Text reveals that may have been an insertion by Scott’s publisher, a man notorious for being overly literal, but also that Scott’s original subtitle was actually ‘Tis Fifty Years Since’. That abandonment of the project only to take it up again, could account for some of the slippage.
I found I could skate over Scott’s 19th spellings – eg dulness, chuse, expence, centinel, whiskey, stupified, extacy, cieling – and once again we have the archaic sunk, sprung, sung, rung for sank, sprang, sang, rang.
Otherwise: “resumption of his commission” (resumption is here used in the sense of revoking,) the English flag (this must actually have been the Union flag,) feodal (feudal, possibly due to a misreading of Scott’s handwriting.)
In the essay on the text:- there are a number (there is a number.) “There are number of surviving anecdotal records.” “… two female Scottish writer” (writers,) and an opened parenthesis which is never closed. In the Historical Note:- events relating the 1745 rising (relating to the,) of Highlands (of the Highlands,) the visits the (then visits the,) raising of the ‘the Standard’ (raising of ‘the Standard’,) epicentre when centre was meant, “there are a number” (is,) “another body of MacIvers were” (another body was.) In the Explanatory Notes:- to the ‘the Seven Lovers’ (to ‘the Seven Lovers’,) Latin literally (several instances) – and French literally (once) – (there is no need for “literally” to be italicised, it’s not in a foreign language,) Domincan (Dominican,) Lindor is is not (only one “is” necessary,) Great Britian (Great Britain,) “in opposition the Engagers” (to the Engagers,) Janazaries (usually Janizaries or Janissaries,) fiar price (fair price?) insignium (the Latin singular of insignia is insigne – neuter of insignis – not insignium,) medieval, Lillibuero (Lillibulero, as elsewhere,) the Jacobites army (Jacobite or Jacobites’,) enaged (engaged,) Abbotford (Abbotsford,) “refers to indecisive battle” (to the indecisive battle,) one the seven (one of the seven,) hung (hanged.) In the Glossary:- Latin, short for (Latin, short for,) all the words glossed are in bold except the entry for een, the Scots word for eyes.

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Penguin, Reprint of 1964 edition, 237 p. One of the 100 best Scottish Books.

To The Lighthouse cover

Quite why this is on any list of Scottish books is something of a mystery. Yes, the nominal setting is somewhere in the Western Isles but it could really be anywhere. There is nothing intrinsically Scottish about the subject matter nor the characters and certainly not their speech patterns. I always suspected that Scottishness would be a false premise under which to read the book. Granted, there are references to the Waverley novels, but that is not enough to make a book Scottish. Neither are there sufficient descriptions of the landscape to bring it under the umbrella.

I understand Woolf is revered by some (a cover quote from Jeanette Winterson says, “Woolf is Modern. She feels close to us. With Joyce and Eliot she has shaped a literary century.”) Yet I found this novel to be …. odd.

To The Lighthouse is structured in three sections, The Window, Time Passes and The Lighthouse, of which the first is the longest and the second not much more than a placeholder but mercifully more cogent than the other two. We begin eavesdropping on the Ramsay family and their acquaintances as they contemplate a visit to the titular lighthouse the next day. There is little conflict between the characters (except in their unspoken thoughts) – certainly none that is dramatized, only Mr Ramsay saying he doubts they will be able to make the trip. Not a lot happens. Arguably the most important event in the book occurs offstage in Time Passes and is only reported – but people reflect on the little that does happen either at length or a tangent.

I have no problem with stream of consciousness as a technique – Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon uses it well – but without a focus it can reel off into irrelevance. The narrative viewpoint here can flit from mind to mind within the same paragraph (sometimes it felt like the same sentence.) As a result any insight into the human condition ends up drowned in the deluge. Any wood here is difficult to distinguish amongst all the trees. The copy I read was the good lady’s and she has told me she didn’t take to the book either.

I note from the entry on Woolf in The Oxford Companion to English Literature that she co-founded Hogarth Press – the original publishers of To The Lighthouse and others of her works: this is surely tantamount to self-publishing – and from her Wikipedia entry that her first novel was published by her half-brother’s company; which smacks of nepotism to me.

It’s the first of her works I have read and maybe I ought to sample more but I’d be delighted if someone could tell me just why Woolf is supposed to be good. On this evidence, and as that advert used to have it, her writing is dull, dull, dull.

Pedant’s corner:- galoshes (galoshes,) stood (x2, standing,) trapesing (I had not previously come across this alternative spelling of traipsing,) a comma at the end of one paragraph, shrunk (shrank,) waterily (what an ugly word; “like water” would have conveyed the sense,) sunk (sank.)

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

William Heinemann, 2012, 333 p. One of Scotland’s favourite books.

The Panopticon cover

Narrator Anais Hendricks has spent her life in care; from birth to her age now, fifteen. There was a short period when she had what was in comparison a stable home life when she was adopted by a prostitute. Unfortunately her adoptive mother was killed while Anais was in the room next door. Anais has been in and out of homes fifty-one times and in more trouble at school (which, of course, she barely attends) and with the police than you could count. She has a particular bent for stealing school minibuses then crashing them; and for fire-raising. The book, then, does not promise to be a bundle of laughs and Anais not a likely candidate for salvation. She is bright, though, and reads voraciously, has a keen sense of herself; and of injustice. As a sort of compensation she plays what she calls the birthday game, imagining all sorts of different beginnings for herself, and she dreams of a life in Paris.

We meet her when, under suspicion of having put a policewoman into a coma (of which she vehemently denies her guilt,) she is being transferred to the Panopticon of the title, a building from the centre of which the inmates are under the view of the staff at all times. A clue to her possible mental state is when she sees the stone cat at the entrance – which she dubs Malcolm – move its wings. She also thinks she is the subject of what she calls the Experiment, the project of a mysterious group which may be from another universe or dimension – and for whom the only evidence the reader has is Anais’s words – and she is being tested to destruction in the sense she thinks the Experiment wants her to commit suicide. But, despite the Experiment, she feels that, “I, the young miss Anais, understand wholly that I am just a human being that nobody is interested in.”

She has a keen sense of morality, “I’d lay sic down and die for someone I loved; I’d fuck up anyone who abused a kid, or messed with an old person. … I’m honest as fuck and you’ll never understand that. …. I’ve read books you’ll never look at, danced to music you couldnae appreciate, and I’ve more class, guts and soul in my wee finger than you will ever, ever have in your entire, miserable fucking life.” However she cannot reveal this to any of the care workers; not even Angus Everlen, who is the only care worker who has seen any good in her.

Her relationships with fellow inmates, Tash, Isla (a very well-drawn picture of a mother devastated that her HIV positive status has been passed on to her twin children) and Shortie are vividly realised. They become almost a surrogate family but of course cannot look out for each other as much as each of them needs.

Anais’s biological mother may have had psychotic schizophrenia, as may Anais. A man who claims to have witnessed Anais’s birth tells her she is the daughter of an Outcast Queen, who could fly (as Anais imagines she does. But, then, she does take a lot of drugs.)

A rumbling sub-plot concerning Anais’s boyfriend, who it is always apparent has used her (very few of her acquaintances don’t) but is now in prison and owes people a lot of money, comes to a hideous head, triggering Anais’s resolve.

This is a book about the lives of those are not often represented in fiction – nor ever sympathetically in the normal way of public discourse – and so of course acts a necessary corrective.

This is not an easy read but it is so well written it was easy to read – at least I found it so. The stream of consciousness had a flow to it, logic even, though perhaps it helps to have some knowledge of the culture from which it springs. The splattering of the text with Midlothian demotic and expletives did not offend me (as it might others.) This is the way some people talk, especially those who tend to be discounted by the organs of the state. Anais has a distinct voice – even if you cannot quite be certain what to believe of what she says and it is at times perhaps a little too assured. “I’m a bit unconvinced by reality full stop. It’s fundamentally lacking in something and nobody seems bothered…” “…all the time this infinite universe surrounds us, and everyone pretends it’s not there.” The details of life as an inmate in the care system were convincing enough, though.

The symbol of a Panopticon as a metaphor for teenage existence – especially in the care system – was potentially a good one but at timesbecame a trifle overblown and wasn’t actually entirely justified by the set up shown us in the book .

As a novel I’ll doubtless remember The Panopticon for a long time. I don’t think I’ll ever describe it as a favourite, though.

Pedant’s corner:- Anais refers to The Experiment as plural throughout, also – apart from one “lie” – she uses “lay” for being horizontal and “kosh” for cosh: all of these are direct expressions of Anais though. Otherwise; “he’s always owe them money” (owed,) take the edge of the colours (off, I think,) “‘Vive le révolution’” (Vive la révolution: the speaker is supposed to know her French, she’d get the noun’s gender right,) ditto “vive le” 3 lines later, naïvist (naïvest,) “for something I dinnae do” (didnae.)

The Ragged Man’s Complaint by James Robertson

B&W Publishing, 1993, 158 p.

 The Ragged Man’s Complaint cover

This is Robertson’s second collection of short stories, after Close.
Giraffe is told from the viewpoint of a worker in a Safari Park and gives a picture of all the dodgy practices that go on there.
In Plagues a man who works in a bookshop sees frogs everywhere and is worried that’s only the beginning.
Screen Lives displays a woman and a man developing their relationship by acting out lines from the film Notorious.
In The Jonah one of two men hitch-hiking in a backwater reflects on how to turn his life around.
The Claw is the withered appendage of the HIV positive narrator’s grandfather, “caught between hope and history,” in a care home. A monitor of his future.
Squibs contains four vignettes a couple of which approach the style of Iain Crichton Smith’s Munro stories.
Bastards relates an encounter in a pub, where a man mistakes another for “the cunt my wife ran off wi’.”
Facing It is a vignette even shorter than those in Squibs wherein a man sees his innards cascade into the toilet bowl and realises he can no longer ignore his medical problem.
The unarguably apocalyptic The End is Nigh, told in almost biblical cadences, has a Science-Fictional feel as a prophet extends his sermon while wandering the countryside.
There are reflections on writing, relative privilege and Scotland in The Mountain, where for a few months in the winter following his grandfather’s death a man occupies the ancestral croft.
What Love Is examines the distance between married couple Dan and Joan, between men’s lives and women’s. “Dan isn’t frightened of other lives. He imagines them all the time. The only life he is frightened of is his own.”
Portugal 5, Scotland 0 (the comma is Robertson’s – or his publisher’s.) During the game concerned two men in a pub take to discussing Hugh MacDiarmid, poetry and Scotland’s cultural reawakening, turning back only after the game is finished, since the football has begun not to matter so much.
In Tilt Alan’s friend Mike tells him the only question in the world worth asking is, “What’s it about?” (Note the absence of “all”.) Alan’s increasingly shiftless feeling comes to a head one day after an encounter with a recalcitrant pinball machine and Mike’s sister, Mona.
Surprise, Surprise. A man accompanies three girls to a party and while there finds his evening is described in a book he picks from a shelf.
In the absence of the real thing, the Tories having won a General Election again (the book’s publication date suggests the 1992 one) Robert occasionally retreats into The Republic of the Mind. “I just think what a waste of time it is, having to wait to be a normal country, having to waste all this energy identifying ourselves. So I bugger off anyway. To the Scottish Republic of the mind.” On an epiphany he thinks, “You had to come upon it, or it came upon you.” He also realises, “how nobody ever assumed their neighbour was a Tory in a public house in Scotland,” and “We’re a nation of philosophers … at the end of the day. A nation of fucking philosophers.” That expletive is a brilliant piece of emphasis by Robertson. It demonstrates both the glory and the despair of the thought it qualifies.
Someone, perhaps homeless, perhaps not, is Pretending to Sleep. For all the ones who cannot do it for themselves. It is a strange existence. “Funny how in the cells they come to check if you’re not dead. Out here, out in the open, nobody checks” but, “Just by lying there, pretending to sleep, you get under their skin …. deep into them.” It’s a horror story. But not for the pretender.

Pedant’s corner:- staunch (stanch,)

The Return of John Macnab by Andrew Greig

Headline Review, 1996, 285 p.

The Return of John Macnab cover

This, Greig’s second novel, takes as its template John Buchan’s John Macnab which I reviewed here. Once again three men – but this time not “gentlemen” – form an alliance to poach a salmon, a brace of grouse and a stag respectively from three different estates, Mavor, Inchallian and Balmoral, and then deliver the poached items back to the “owners”, as a challenge to “absentee landowners and the Criminal Justice Act” and as a wager to the three estates’ owners; issuing a statement to this effect in the Scotsman newspaper. The “John Macnab” here comprises at first Neil Lindores, Murray Hamilton and Alasdair Sutherland, each with his own special talent useful for the enterprise, but not long after arriving in “a small Highland town” Lindores is sussed out by local journalist Kirsty Fowler who is excited by the project and offers to help them.

Greig’s background in climbing comes to the fore in his description of the scramble needed to get to the pool for the salmon poach and his life as a poet in the sentence, “Seldom had a celebration broken up so fast, as if someone had announced an evening of performance poetry would commence in thirty seconds.”

His descriptions of landscape are loving and there is the odd reflection on the condition of Scotland. On feeling himself squeezed as at the narrow waist of an hour-glass with more past than future as the minutes ran through Neil thinks, “What a depressingly Scottish image. Its negativity was another thing that was true about his country. It went along with tholing, bearing, putting up with, and taking a certain satisfaction in the expected bad news when it came.” Yes indeed. That’s Calvinism for you. Neil does go on, though, to sense “it was a wrong picture. He was groping for another, still true but more affirmative.” At another point, “He hugged Murray. This was a first – they were Scottish, after all.”

The big problem John Macnab faces here is Balmoral. It is late summer and HRH is in residence. Consequently the place is hoaching with Special Services, Army and Police as well as the usual ghillies and gamekeepers. The authorities cannot ignore the possibility that John Macnab is merely a cover for a terrorist attempt on HRH’s life.

The text occasionally refers to Buchan’s novel, as it has to, and even critiques it in mentioning that Buchan’s women are really just chaps – though with (small) breasts. Greig’s intent is somewhat different; and his women are certainly far from chaps. Kirsty is as rounded and complex a character as you could wish (such women are a common factor in Greig’s novels) and is thoroughly involved in the poaching efforts – as are Sutherland’s and Hamilton’s wives and the former’s family – at least in the second one. Sutherland’s wife, though she has had an affair tells Kirsty she would kill him if he were to do the same. Ellen Stobo, a policewoman attached to the security services but who finds herself coming to an understanding of John Macnab, is also well drawn. To be fair to Buchan he was writing adventure tales for a male audience in a time that was less aware. Greig is by far the better examiner of the human condition though.

The John Macnab template – while driving the events of the plot – at times gets in the way of Greig’s greater facility with personal relationships but in the end his own concerns overwhelm Buchan’s. Still, he nearly overdoes it, veering very close to the tradition of the Scottish sentimental novel (compare Iain Banks’s Espedair Street,) in the final pages. But he is too canny to yield a conventional ending.

That template means that The Return of John Macnab is not quite up there with Greig’s best – all the other novels of his I have read; see “Andrew Greig” in my categories – but for an exploration of human uncertainties, hesitations, lust for life and willingness to take risks, emotional as well as physical, it’s still pretty damn good.

Pedant’s corner:- midgies (midges – which spelling does occur in the book once but otherwise with the extraneous “i”,) swopped (swapped,) “‘but there a problem comes with it’” (but there’s a problem,) autogiro (autogyro,) hoochin’ (usually spelled – and pronounced – hoachin’,) the main work party were loading gear (the party was,) none of the computer systems were down (none was down,) a missing end quote mark.

Time Travel, Reviews, Hame and Rebellions

In an article in Saturday’s Guardian review, James Gleick examined the history of the time travel story since H G Wells more or less invented the form in The Time Machine. It was a skate over the subject really and veered into the territory of so-called Alternative History which of course I prefer to name Altered History but worth reading all the same.

In the same section of the paper was a review of Annalena McAfee’s new novel Hame. Many reviews are interesting, some make you think “definitely not”. Very few inspire you to go out and read the book concerned. Stuart Kelly’s did just that, as indeed did his review of Kevin MacNeil’s The Brilliant and Forever which I read a few months ago after also reading the same author’s A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde due to the same review. McAfee’s Hame sounds intriguing and possibly funny. Definitely one I’ll look for.

I recalled McAfee’s name. She had an article in the Guardian Review some weeks ago which I wished to post about then but at the time could not find on the Guardian website but which now pops up fourth when you search her name there. The article was about the relative importance of Robert Burns and the possible balefulness of his mythologising (Aside. Why does no-one ever question this about Shakespeare?) and the continuing battle over whether Scots is a suitable medium of expression for literature.

My take is if the author wishes to use Scots it is entirely up to her or him. It may reduce the psossible readership but that is a question for author and publisher, not reader. Myself, though not very well versed in it, my mother being the daughter of two English parents, thus hardly a native speaker and unable to expose me to its richness, I do not consider Scots – as some do – as necessarily inferior form to English. It is at times much more pithy.

I have a quibble with McAfee over a detail in that piece, though. She stated that Burns was born “two decades after the failed rebellion against the Union.” While Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Rebellion of 1745-6 was many things, not least the last flailing gasp of a failed dynasty, and the Battle of Culloden can even be considered as in some way (if you ignore its continuation into Ireland even into the twentieth century and possibly beyond,) the last of the Thirty Years War – though admittedly that was mostly fought out in German territories – it was not primarily against the Union. It was less general then that, more personal.

The Bonniest Companie by Kathleen Jamie

Picador, 2015, 70 p including 1p Notes and Acknowledgements.

The Bonniest Companie cover

This, Jamie’s latest book of poetry, won the Saltire Society Book of the Year Award for 2016.

There are 47 poems here of which only two stretch over 1 page in length. Most take the form, if not the formal structure, of a sonnet, though Soledades has eight lines of what look like prose before opening out in its last three lines. Some are very short indeed. The last, Gale, has only 16 syllables, shorter than a haiku. The longest, Another You, bears out the potency of cheap music, the titular deer in The Hinds are “the bonniest companie”. Ben Lomond refers to the bonny banks in a poem which, like the song containing those lines, is about death and remembrance. 23/9/14 is an injunction to gird up again after the Scottish Independence Referendum. High Water compares ocean tides to an adulterous affair, Scotland’s Splendour scopes out the delights of memories from a book stumbled on in a charity shop, Wings Over Scotland is a litany of the recorded deaths of birds of prey on various landed estates, taken – verbatim it would seem – from the original reports.

The language Jamie uses goes from standard English to various degrees of Scots depending on the poem. Migratory II, (eftir Hölderlin) is the most uncompromisingly Scottish. The prevalence of poems about animals or landscape places Jamie’s poetry firmly within the tradition of Scottish literature.

Pedant’s corner:- midgies (I know Scottish spelling is a moveable feast but midges, please,) “one less left” (“one fewer” sounds more natural to me.)

Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh

Canongate, 2005, 158 p.

 Tamburlaine Must Die cover

This novella is certainly a departure from the genre and style of Welsh’s first book, her novel The Cutting Room, a contemporary (more or less) crime tale set in Glasgow. The time here is London in 1593 and we are reading Christopher Marlowe’s account of his past few days, written in case he does not survive the morrow. Drawn before the Privy Council to answer charges of blasphemy and atheism (someone has been disseminating leaflets of this nature as written by “Tamburlaine” and naturally this is assumed to be Marlowe himself after his success with his play Tamburlaine the Great,) he is set free in order to procure evidence against Sir Walter Raleigh. His efforts in this direction are taken over by his quest to discover the person who had betrayed him; a search in which we are led through the byways, hideaways, stews and fleshpots of Elizabethan London, the politics of power and the drawbacks of having an influential patron.

I must confess I have not read nor seen any of Marlowe’s works – so how well Welsh captures his voice I cannot say, but it was convincing enough. Of course true Elizabethan prose would have been fairly impenetrable to the modern reader in any case so some degree of accommodation is to be expected.

On a second thought this is not actually so much of a leap by Welsh. She is still dealing with intrigue and crime. She has done it well though and is now on my look for list.

Pedant’s corner:- I couldn’t find ambidextor anywhere, on line or off, but its context was as if of people who might play one side against the other; nor could I find cosiner (but it may be a variant of cozener as it was in a list of felons of various sorts.) Otherwise:- wainscoted (wainscotted,) Baynes’ (Baynes’s,) hung (hanged, or was hung Elizabethan usage?) from whence (whence means from where, so from whence can only mean from from where.)

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