Archives » Scottish Fiction

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

The Reprint Society, 1965, 187 p.

Memento Mori cover

The cast of characters here consists of elderly people some of whom are in a home. While the driver of the plot seems to be the reception by some of them of telephone calls wherein the recipient is enjoined to, “Remember you must die,” the police can make no headway in discovering the culprit, whose voice is described differently by different people, and there is an indication that the whole scenario is due to hallucinations. Yes, one of the elderly is beaten to death during a burglary but this was opportunistic, the result of an overheard conversation revealing the victim would be home alone.

A lot is made of the past indiscretions of both Godfrey Colston and his wife, Charmian – the first’s known to his spouse (though he believes they aren’t and is subject to blackmail as a result,) the second’s not to her husband (at least early on,) with, respectively, Lisa Black and Guy Leet.

I’ve seen this book described as one of the great novels of the 1950s. Not for me it isn’t. It’s well written certainly, but in total felt a bit inconsequential.

Pedant’s corner:- “a old woman” (an,) Symons’ (Symons’s, we had “James’s” correctly,) “‘Gwen!’ she screams. ‘Gwen!’” (screamed, the rest of the paragraph is in past tense,) a missing full stop, a missing end quote right at the end of the last section.

Glitter of Mica by Jessie Kesson

Paul Harris, 1982, 159 p, including 6 p Introduction by William Donaldson. First published 1963.

Glitter of Mica cover

Glitter of Mica is another tale of life in rural Scotland, in the parish of Caldwell, somewhere north and east of Aberdeen. This short novel is similar in some respects to Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song in that the shadow of change hangs over the town and it begins with a recitation of the area’s history. The pre-Second World War past of protagonist Hugh Riddel is gone into as the son of an itinerant fee’d farm hand who could never settle and was never retained until he came to Darklands and cemented his place as a Dairyman. The main thrust of the book is, though, set in the post war period.

The narrative structure is not linear, Kesson adopts a variety of viewpoints to tell her tale delineating life and attitudes in Caldwell through the eyes of Hugh, his wife Isa, his daughter Helen, Sue Tatt (the local woman of easy virtue) and the upstart Charlie Anson. Moreover in its first few pages the book’s defining moment is referred to as being in the very recent past with most of the narrative then circling round and leading up to that point.

The sense of social hierarchy being breached is never far away, the awareness that an increase in equality had come with the war but was still thought unseemly highlighted by the reactions to Hugh’s recent “Address to the Ladies” at a Burns Supper. Yet class differences still prevail. ‘If you’re poor you’re plain mad. If you’re rich they’ve got an easier name for you. A Nervous Breakdown.’

As an exemplar of a certain kind of Scottish fiction this would be hard to beat. It is worth reading for itself though.

Pedant’s corner:- In the Introduction; Endinbro’ (Edinbro’.) “None of the characters are complex people.” (None is a complex person.) Otherwise; God Knows’ (God Knows’s,) “a sun ranging from half a crown to ten shillings” (a sum,) Robbie Burns’ (Burns’s,) a missing end quote mark, Darklands’ (Darklands’s,) calender (calendar,) “before if shocked” (it.) “He had even less illusions” (fewer,) sime wind (some wind,) “loathe to let them go” (loath, or loth.)

The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Abacus, 2013, 235 p.

 The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency cover

As I was not particularly taken with my previous experience of McCall Smith (in his book 44 Scotland Street) I would not have read this had it not been on the list of 100 best Scottish Books. This is a better book overall than 44 Scotland Street, but still no more than light entertainment.

Using her father’s legacy Precious Ramotswe sets up Botswana’s first detective agency to be run by ladies and sets out to solve the cases brought to her. Most of these are simple enough and resolved remarkably quickly, usually by Precious confronting the malefactor and inducing a confession. In one, the solution to the mystery is obvious as soon as it is outlined by the client and Precious’s investigations merely confirm it.

Only the awareness of the practice of witchcraft and a glancing encounter with a crime boss who is entangled with politics (both of which milieux McCall Smith’s treatment steers Precious well clear of) hint at anything dark in Botswanan society. The tone is resolutely light touch.

This type of book is undoubtedly popular. But one of Scotland’s best 100? Come on!

Pedant’s corner:- “seems to have stuck in people’s mind” (minds,) “two hundred rands” (isn’t the plural of rand, rand?) “the Natal” (does that province have an article before its name? Isn’t it just Natal?)

Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant

Penguin Classics, 1998, 499 p, plus 21p Notes, 28 p Appendices, i p Contents, iv p Chronology of the author’s life, xxii p Introduction, iii p Notes on the Introduction, ii p Further Reading, ii p A Note on the Text. First published, serially, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 1865-6 and in three volume book form, 1866. One of the 100 best Scottish Books.

 Miss Marjoribanks cover

Four years after her mother’s death, Miss Marjoribanks (that designation is used much more frequently than the character’s given name, Lucilla) returns to Carlingford from her education (plus a year’s finishing in Switzerland and Italy) and sets out to redesign not only her father’s domestic arrangements but also the polite society of the town. Constantly declaiming it is her sole purpose to be “a comfort to Papa” she feels duty bound not to marry for at least ten years and none of the eligible bachelors who enter her orbit manages to “engage her affections”. Not Mr Cavendish whose sister is the town mimic, forever taking people off, and whose origins are somewhat obscure but is said to be “one of the Cavendishes”; not the Archdeacon, Mr Beverley, who is favourite to become bishop should Carlingford ascend to the status of a see; not even Mr Ashburton, despite Miss Marjoribanks immediately divining that he is the man for Carlingford when the old MP dies and nudging him onto the path to candidacy.

The first two volumes are given over to the workings out of the relationships between Lucilla and the former two men and the interest shown – especially by the ladies – in any possible match. The third is set after those ten years have elapsed. Much of the intrigue is centre round Lucilla’s institution of “evenings” every Thursday. The narrative is not quite so wordy as a Walter Scott novel but is still fairly prolix, possibly due to its initial serialisation in Blackwood’s Magazine.

Prominent are Oliphant’s thoughts on men as mediated through Miss Marjoribanks’s views and comments. In this discourse pronouns for men as a group are frequently capitalised and italicised as They, Their and Them. One of Lucilla’s observations leaves no doubt as to which she thinks is the more capable sex. “‘I am so sorry I don’t understand about politics. If we” [women] “were going in for that sort of thing, I don’t know what there would be left for gentlemen to do.’” Lucilla’s condescension to the lower orders (such as Barbara Lake and her sister Rose, the latter of whom considers herself eminently respectable, but who are the daughters of the town’s drawing master and so forever below the salt) strikes the modern reader forcibly and seems to reflect Oliphant’s own opinions. However, very little of Oliphant’s Scottish background is evident, really only this, “Dr Marjoribanks was Scotch, and had a respect for ‘talent’ in every development, as is natural to his nation,” but a certain English attitude permeates the sentence, “she had been brought up in the old-fashioned orthodox way of having respect for religion, and as little to do with it as possible.”

It struck me on reading this that Oliphant’s Carlingford novels might make a suitable project for adaptation for TV instead of the usual suspects which are trotted out on a regular basis.

PS: Those of a sensitive nature might note that the text also contains a word which might offend the modern sensibility but which was used thoughtlessly in Victorian times in the line, “the committee, which ordered him about like a nigger.”

Pedant’s corner:- “‘Oh, nonsense, Lucilla.’” (Though she was present, the previous speaker had not been Lucilla,) “‘and me who have such a respect for religion’” (me who has,) “the Miss Browns” (the Misses Brown,) “a succession of dreadful thumps were heard” (a succession was heard,) “the Miss Blounts” (the Misses Blount,) “A series of the most enthusiastic compliments were paid” (strictly, a series was,) “neither of the two were very poetical” (neither of the two was…,) Westeria (wisteria,) goloshes (galoshes,) canvass (canvas, it was for a painting.) “Lucilla caught , as it were, and met, and forced to face her, her informant’s … look” (looks to have a “her” too many and also seems syntactically out of sorts,) two Miss Ravenswoods (Misses Ravenswood,) the Miss Penrhyns (the Misses Penrhyn,) Affghanistan blanket (nowadays Afghanistan.)
In the Notes: “the, shorter, Nicene creed” (the shorter, Nicene, creed,) “the pro-Dissenting wing … were campaigning” (the pro-Dissenting wing was campaigning.)

The Thirteenth Disciple by J Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon)

Black and White, 1995, 262 p, plus ix p Introduction by Jack Webster.

 The Thirteenth Disciple cover

Malcom Maudslay (yes that is the spelling of Malcom used) is a child of that north-east of Scotland which Mitchell/Gibbon wrote about so well, distilling the experiences he gained while growing up there. In this novel the life of a young child in rural Scotland in the early part of the twentieth century is evoked admirably. Like J Leslie Mitchell was himself, Malcom is of a scholastic bent, encouraged to stay on at school by both the local minister and the dominie at Leekan, whose half-French neice, Domina Riddoch, is something of a free spirit, apt to scandalise the neighbourhood with her relaxed attitude to clothing in hot weather.

Malcom more or less self-educates by reading voraciously, though his father would have been keener to see him fee’d at a neighbouring farm. Through the minister he develops an interest in archaeology (which has significance much later) but Malcom soon outgrows his teachers and secures a job in journalism in Glasgow where he meets his first lover, Rita Johnson, and takes up with socialists. He progresses quickly at the newspaper but Rita’s accidental death (there is a hint that it may not actually have been an accident) and a misuse of the paper’s funds mean he has to leave Glasgow. Not quite his usual self, he joins the Army and endures the brutal rigours of training, but his relationship with the greatest influence on his life, Sergeant Major John Metaxa, a man as educated as himself, is in itself an education. A subsequent spell in the trenches in the Great War is described in harrowing terms. There is an occasional narrative conceit whereby we are given quotes from a journal of reflections Malcom supposedly kept in adulthood.

While The Thirteenth Disciple does not reach the heights of Sunset Song (but not even its two sequels quite did that) it signals the direction in which Mitchell/Gibbon would travel and in one delicious passage the Leekan village gossip is described as passing on from Leekan “and its scandalous days and nights – no doubt to that particular hell where all folk live discreetly and unscandalously, where no juicy stories ever circulate, where all girls marry their lovers before they bed with them.” Later, in his role as editor of Malcom’s journals, our narrator tells us, “To us of the early twentieth century the detailed sex-act is still impossible in all literature but the pseudo-scientific. We are, all of us, still, too young and nasty-minded.” It has been said that Andrew Greig was Scotland’s first post-Calvinist writer. On this evidence Gibbon has a good claim to that title.

Pedant’s corner:- In the Introduction; “the age if” (of.) Otherwise; some now obsolete spellings such as Gomorrahn (Gomorran,) tabu (taboo,) juldi (jildi,) Knut Hammsen (Hamsen,) unescapable (inescapable,) Cainozoic (Cenozoic,) Thibet (Tibet,) bye-election (by-election,) unauthentic (inauthentic.) Also there were; Scottish Quarternary (Quaternary,) Jock Edwards’ (Edwards’s,) Kark Liebknecht (Karl,) Epsoms salts (Epsom’s salts,) archeology/archeologist (archaeology/archaeologist; annoyingly the spelling varies from place to place in the book,) “he could fell her breast-nipples against his chest” (breast-nipples? Is there any other kind of nipple on a human?) “Morituiri te salutant!” (Morituri,) a missing end quote mark, “whiskey advertisements” (whisky surely?) a missing start quote mark at the beginning of a quoted paragraph, “Pio Perez’ grammar” (Perez’s,) an extraneous single quote mark, pifistac (???)

Interzone 275

The latest issue (no 275) of Interzone has arrived (cover image centre below.)

 Fifty-One cover
 The Great Chain of Unbeing cover

Interzone 275 cover

This one contains my reviews of The Great Chain of Unbeing by Andrew Crumey and of Fifty-One by Chris Barnham.

Hame by Annalena McAfee

The Fascaray Archives, Harvill Secker, 2017, 585 p.

 Hame cover

This delightful book positively reeks of Scottishness. Told in Pairts Ane (Incomers), Twa (Cauld Handsel,) Thrie (Oor Ain Fowk), and Fower (Haste Ye Back,) and with a Glossary of Scots words, a Select Bibliography and two Appendices, it is not a straightforward novel – though I must say it pleased me from the first pages in having footnotes. It is on the one hand the journal of Mhairi McPhail, a Canadian of Scots extraction recently living in New York, returned to her ancestral home of the Hebridean island of Fascaray to investigate the life and papers of the late poet Grigor McWatt (self-styled Bard of Fascaray) and set up a museum in his memory, on the other a history of Fascaray (and through it the wider Scottish experience) as delivered through extracts from a supposedly forthcoming volume composed by McWatt entitled The Fascaray Compendium (as edited by McPhail and to be published by Crumlin Press) plus extracts from McPhail’s own book on McWatt’s life, A Granite Ballad – The Reimagining of Grigor McWatt (Thackeray College Press, 2016,) all interspersed with examples of the poet’s work (mostly owersettings – translations – or reimaginings of poems familiar from other sources.)

Blessed – and blighted – by the success of his song Hame tae Fascaray in the early 1960s (the list given of artists who have recorded it includes among the great, the good – and the unlikely [The Three Tenors? Dolly Parton?] – the wonderfully named Shooglenifty) and whose lyric bears some (undoubtedly intentional) similarities to The Mingulay Boat Song, McWatt is stand-offish – except perhaps in his cups – curmudgeonly, opinionated, a staunch supporter of both the Scots language and the islanders’ interests, fiercely anti-landlord and even more virulently anti-English – almost a caricature, although solidly fleshed out, of the dour Scot. His relationship with Lilias Hogg (the Flooer o Rose Street) – represented here as something of a poet’s groupie but evidently devoted to McWatt – is predictably distant, not helped by Hogg’s discovery of letters to McWatt from a mysterious woman named Jean.

Our partial narrator McPhail also has a troubled history, a straying husband and her disastrous retaliatory affair in part precipitating her decision to take the job on Fascaray, necessitating bringing along her nine-year old daughter Agnes, who in turn suffers a more or less benign neglect. But who finds the island interesting. At one point in her journal Mhairi describes the contrast in Glasgow’s atmosphere from the night of the Independence referendum to the day after. “Yesterday Glasgow was a carnival. Today it’s a funeral,” and tells us, “Scots have little time for overt sentimentality, though the covert sort has its place.”

Such meditations on Scottishness are never far away. In his Compendium McWatt quotes a Spaniard as writing, “‘Scots go to war, and when they run out of wars, they fight each other,’ and goes on to add, “While our native hostility and suspicion of each other may be ingrained, it is as nothing – a mere shadow dance – to the contempt we hold for our arrogant southern neighbours.” Mhairi’s journal contains a narrator’s aside about the smoothing out of an interviewee’s Scots for tourist consumption. “For ‘very’ read ‘gey’, for ‘aren’t’ read ‘arenae’. It’s not so hard is it?” But her transcriber avers, “‘There’s no Scots leid1…. There are about four Scots dialects and ten sub-dialects, and they’re all variants of English with a bit of Norse thrown in.’” (To which it’s a pity that Mhairi doesn’t reply, ‘But Scots was once one of the great languages of mediæval Europe. On equal footing.’) Later, though, Mhairi does come across McWatt writing that Scots is “no more a dialect than Catalan is a local variant of Castilian Spanish.”

Among McWatt’s many lists of Fascaray’s plant life, animals, sea creatures and the like is one of Scots words denoting fine weather – most of which necessarily describe short interludes – and one, deow, which is defined as “gentle rain”. We are also treated to his view of what makes a Scot – “a modest stoicism, a sense of social justice, a distrust of rank and the trappings of fame and an unbragging appreciation of the beauty and majesty around us.”

The titles and nominal publishers of McWatt’s writings add further grace notes:-
his Memoirs:- Forby (as by Virr Press, 1962) and Ootwith (Smeddum Beuks, 1994,)
his Collected Journalism – mostly reprints from the local (mainland) newspaper The Auchwinnie Pibroch:- Frae Mambeag Brae: Selected Columns and Essays of Grigor McWatt (Stravaigin Press, 1980) and Wittins: Mair Selected Columns and Essays of Grigor McWatt (Stravaigin Press, 2011,)
the books of poetry:- Kenspeckelt (Virr Press, 1959,)
Kowk in the Kaleyard (Virr Press, 1975,)
Wappenshaw (Virr Press, 1986,)
Warld in a Gless: The Collected Varse of Grigor McWatt (Smeddum Beuks, 1992,)
Teuchter’s Chapbook (Smeddum Beuks, 1998,)
Thoog a Poog (Smeddum Beuks, 2010,)
That’s me Awa (Smeddum Beuks, 2013,)
The Whigmaleerie’s Ower – The Complete Collected Verse of Grigor McWatt, ed. Ailish Mooney (Smeddum Beuks, 2015.)

The book’s endpapers display an illustrated sketch map of Fascaray and its environs. The first appendix contains recipes for Fascaray delicacies – the method for a fish piece2 takes up one line, as does that for the soorocks salad – the second is the sheet music for Hame tae Fascaray (as published by Stramash Music.)

Though it is twice (subtly) foreshadowed I’m still undecided as to whether the twist in the final sections revealing the nature of Jean’s relationship to McWatt enhances or detracts from McAfee’s overall tale; either response is legitimate.

No matter: notwithstanding the embedded tales with which McAfee has provided us here, what is impressive is the journey, the relish in the use of Scots, the demonstration of its vitality, its refusal to lie down and go away. Hame is a book which revels in the ongoing Scottish tradition in literature.

1leid = language
2piece is of course a Scots word for sandwich.

Pedant’s corner:- benificent (beneficent,) Menzies’ (Menzies’s,) “the English national anthem on the Home Service” (would actually be the UK one I would think,) Mhari-Ann (elsewhere Mhairi-Ann,) there is an opened parenthesis on page 176 which remains resolutely unclosed, Fascaray is described as being in the Hebrides but Mhairi at one point puts it in the North Sea, “met at a dance in Green’s Playhouse, Glasgow” [where the Sensational Alex Harvey band was playing.] (I doubt it was a dance then; a concert maybe.) Millais’ (Millais’s,) the Fringe Festival (back in the day it was called the Festival Fringe,) a nude revue in Edinburgh in the 1950s? (I don’t think so,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech, span (spun,) “as a ‘a quisling’” (remove one of those “a”s,) “It is to the inhabitants of my tiny isle that I turn to” (one of those “to”s is superfluous,) “ the new dance the twist had come to Auchwinnnie” [the nearest town on the mainland] “in 1968” (a trifle late even for the back of beyond. Early 1960s, more like,) midgies (midges,) The festival (Festival,) “was said to be have been launched” (was said to have been launched,) “on the the fact” (only one “the”,) Miss Geddes’ (Geddes’s,) “a Harry Potter star” (in 2000? The first film came out in 2001,) “none the the wiser” (only one “the”,) sea-sclaters (sea-slaters?) “domestic woodlouse or sclater” (I have only ever heard or seen this as “slater”,) catapaults (catapults,) “and where if fell” (it fell,) in the Glossary “wheen” is defined as a small amount (I have only ever heard or read “wheen” as describing a relatively large amount.)

Jericho Sleep Alone by Chaim I Bermant

Chapman and Hall, 1964, 216 p. One of the 100 best Scottish Books.

Jericho Sleep Alone cover

This is the tale of the childhood, adolescence and early adult life of Jericho Broch and a depiction of the experience of being a middle class Jew in Glasgow in the mid-twentieth century. Not that the narrative confines itself to Scotland. There are forays to London, to Lincolnshire for training in kibbutz life, and an excursion to Israel, all of which provide opportunities to show us how much the world bewilders Jericho, but it is always Glasgow to which he and we return.

Keen not to follow the expectations of his family but at the same time not to disappoint them, Jericho is something of a klutz. He makes a hugely embarrassing error at his barmitzvah – such mishaps befall him with recurring ease – his understanding of women is sketchy, and, achieving a second-class University degree aside, he more or less muddles through life. This is summed up quite early in the book when he is told by a friend, “‘You, poor bastard, are one of nature’s own gentlemen, and you might as well get used to being let down because, if you ask me, you’re never going to be let up.’” Even the one potentially abiding attachment he has, to Ninna, a beguiling medical student, is never on a solid footing, always slipping off to one side.

He is given several offers of employment by uncles and the like. One even questions the desirability of him going to University as its consequence for a parent is that it takes your children away. Better to take a post in the family firm.

That Scottish sense of unspecified sin so inculcated by Calvinism even has its impact on Jews. The condition of living in the city (and all of Scotland) at the time is conveyed by the remark made to Jericho on a proposed anniversary do, “‘Celebrations? Glasgow? People don’t live in Glasgow. They are here to expiate a previous existence.’”

One of the 100 best Scottish books? Well, for an aspect of life not normally covered by the description, yes.

Pedant’s corner:- Luis’ (Luis’s – also employed occasionally,) “‘tell us what is it’” (what it is.) “‘Who expects you to be.’” (is a question so needs a question mark not a full stop.) “‘You didn’t have parties and speeches when people died?’” (conversely isn’t a question and so requires a full stop rather than the question mark,) vultures wings (vultures’ wings.) “‘Where do you think your are, Russia?’” (you are,) stethescopes (stethoscopes,) “eighty percent of woman” (women,) brylcreamed (it’s a proprietary preparation so brylcreemed.) Mentioned later as Brylcream (Brylcreem.) “‘It was having dinner’” (context demands ‘I was having dinner,’) Gilmore hill (it’s one word, Gilmorehill, and was spelled correctly in the several more instances it appeared,) “carpet so thick they tickle my knees” (either carpets, or, it tickles my knees,) palsie (palsy,) dropsie (dropsy,) a missing end quotation mark (x2,) “‘You still haven’t told me what you’re doing here?’” (isn’t a question, so no question mark,) synagogoue (synagogue.) Bar-mitzvah (sometimes spelled with hyphen, other times without,) Baranovitz’ (Baranovitz’s,) waggon (wagon,) “‘It lacks that touch of doom?’” (again, isn’t a question,) references to the Bible and the Old Testament as well as the Torah, an end comma after the direct speech mark rather than immediately before, x4,) the Mitchell library (proper noun, Mitchell Library,) “‘You’ve got penniless capitalists?’ (again not a question, so no question mark,) some moments silence (moments’,) Centrigade (Centigrade, bedtter still, Celsius,) tumesence (tumescence,) stich (stitch,) estacy (ecstasy,) “for more then fifteen minutes” (than,) the Trossacks (Trossachs, x2,) Aramaeic (Aramaic,) lemonsoda (lemon soda,) calomine lotion (calamine lotion,) sunk (sank,) “‘I suppose Philip told you I was here?’” (is another non-question.) I suppose these might be a way to represent the inflections of Jewish speech on the page but ditto “‘ – in fact that is the only circumstance in which you can adore a woman?’” ditto “‘tell me, but frankly, what I lack?’” ditto “‘You’d look very handsome as a sailor?’” ditto “‘I was wondering whether you have any idea whose they are?’” ditto “‘So I had travelled and was educated?’” Unilevers (Unilever,) Gilettes (Gillette’s,) rumbah (rumba,) strudl (usually rendered in English as strudel.)

Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine

Penguin, 1994, 181 p. First Published 1987. One of the 100 best Scottish Books.

 Madame Doubtfire  cover

Familiar to many people via the film version starring Robin Williams, this is the tale of an estranged father, a mostly unemployed actor, driven to distraction by his ex-wife’s cavalier approach to their children’s access visits, conceiving the idea of gaining the post of housekeeper in his old home by dressing up as effectively a Pantomime Dame. The book, though, is much more nuanced than was the film.

Even so, the parents are more or less continually at war and their children unwilling onlookers to the dispute. Each parent is as at fault as the other and the children are by far the wisest characters in the book which is well enough written, but sparely so, no doubt with a target young audience in mind.

The only reason I read it is because it is on that 100 Best Scottish Books list. However, I’m not sure it deserves to be.

Pedant’s corner:- curb (kerb,) “‘It was horrible. Horrible’” (is missing the full stop between . Horrible and the end quotation mark.

Lie of the Land by Michael F Russell

Polygon, 2015, 299 p

 Lie of the Land cover

In a near future authoritarian Britain surveilled by CivCon, Carl Shewan is an investigative journalist for a news organisation on its last legs. On a tip-off from his friend Howard Brindley he makes his way from Glasgow through several checkpoints to the north-west coast town of Inverlair. While he is there, a system known as SCOPE – short for Secure Communications Open Emergency – to be used for asset management and communications coverage in a national crisis but in reality designed to track and control people, is switched on. The people of the town find themselves cut off from the rest of the world which may well no longer exist in any meaningful sense as Howard believes an imperfection in the SCOPE protocol caused a standing harmonic in the same range as deep sleep. Anyone in its range has been put to sleep, not to wake up until the system fails, which may not be for years or even decades. Inverlair lies in a pocket outside the transmitters’ ranges and is cocooned in what the inhabitants come to call the redzone. When they approach its boundaries they experience a buzzing in their heads, and piercing headaches too painful to endure, so back away. The novel deals with the consequences of this isolation for the inhabitants – including Carl’s impending fatherhood which was occasioned by a mutual act of comfort he and Simone, Inverlair’s hotelier’s daughter, indulged in when the town’s plight became apparent.

The book is structured in seven sections relating to different months of the fateful year, not chronologically but more artfully in the order October, July, November, August, December, January-April, with the last section titled New Life.

As the old certainties break down new arrangements come into force. A town committee is formed to allocate food and resources according to relevant contributions, actual or potential. Social norms pertaining to legal observances become undermined. With the older incumbent no longer having access to his medication, Carl is taken on somewhat unwillingly as a trainee in the stalking, killing and gralloching of deer.

Despite its premise the book is more concerned with the dynamics of personal relationships than the working out of the technological quandary its characters inhabit. In this it more resembles a mainstream novel rather than a work of traditional Science Fiction. It is in effect a novel in the wider Scottish literary heritage of the small town tale and an exemplar of Scottish fiction in its vivid descriptions of landscape. And in that it is very good indeed.

Pedant’s corner:- telecoms (usually telecoms,) “‘He gestured towards vaguely towards the window” (remove one “towards”,) nosey (nosy,) sprung (sprang,) spinal chord (cord.) “‘One their way out’” (On,) “this time there had been no one eye in the sky” (doesn’t need the “one”.) “The committee had stepped into the breach and were now” (the committee was now; several instances of the committee were.) “There were a variety of responses” (there was a variety.) “There was no reason he couldn’t live like this way for years” (either, “There was no reason he couldn’t live like this for years”, or, “There was no reason he couldn’t live this way

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