Archives » Scottish Fiction

Scar Culture by Toni Davidson

Rebel Inc, 1999, 253 p Including 9 p Appendices. One of the 100 best Scottish Books.

Scar Culture cover

Had it not been for that 100 best Scottish books list I would never have sought this out. As it was I couldn’t say I enjoyed it exactly but it was interesting and well written. It has an odd structure though, broken up into five sections titled respectively Click, Fright, Sad, Preparation, The Experiment; and the viewpoint shifts between Click and Fright and Fright and Sad are a bit jarring – but probably intentionally so.

The first two are memoirs of two inmates in The Breathhouse, a psychiatric institution, where the inmates have all been given nicknames by the staff to illustrate their quirks (not only Click and Fright, but also Blade, Dogger, Treats and Synth.)

Click took photographs both in actuality (once he was given a camera by his parents) and in his head. He calls his parents Exit (because she did) and Panic (because he was prone to.) Fright’s section is a transcript of tapes made of him relating his memories as part of his therapy. He and his brother witnessed his mother’s death at the hands of his father and were later subjected to dark experiences in a caravan. The last three sections are written from the viewpoint of Dr Curtis Sad who is indulging in psychosexual research in the area of inter-family sexuality. Sad calls his other professionals psychohacks, and receives communications from Peterson, a like-minded psychosexual researcher in the US (but whose letters, rendered in the text in italics, use British English spellings.)

Sad is obsessed with his Sister Josie, about whom he has memories/fantasies of a distinctly unbrotherly hue. These demonstrate he is as loopy as any of the inmates. He refers to “memory recovery as a form of lethal weapon,” is setting up an exercise in milieu therapy in which he will reconstruct the environments in which Click and Fright suffered their traumas. He enlists Blade, Dogger, Treats and Synth to help construct these. Does this sound as if all will go well?

Three appendices provide us respectively with the Rules of Psychiatry which Curtis refers to in sequence at intervals in the main narrative, notes from his sister Julie’s (much needed in my opinion given Sad’s account of her childhood and adolescence) psychotherapy sessions, and an index of Click’s photos.

In Scar Culture Davidson has opened up the world of the psychologically disturbed (and perhaps that of the practitioners of psychiatric well-being.) It is certainly important to consider in fiction the plight of the mentally unwell – and of those whose upbringing has rendered them unstable – but it is by no means a comfortable experience to read of them.

Curiously, my edition has rough-cut page edges (though the tops and bottoms were smooth) as if it had been published in the nineteenth century.

Pedant’s corner:- “‘Its safe here’” (It’s,) “‘but I couldn’t been to look at him’” (couldn’t bear,) a missing end quotation mark (x2,) “was back here in that mountainside lagoon” (back there makes more sense,) out-with (it’s one word, outwith,) “tickled out feet” (our feet,) “he would researched” (he would be researched,) “an sheepish look” (a sheepish look,) “liked to fight too much, like to use her hands to scratch” (liked to use her hands,) “my parents lies’ left off” (my parents’ lies left off,) “that’s just kind of moronic psychobite” (just the kind of,) winge (whinge,) “in small coffin shaped cardboard box” (in a small,) “on the dolls back” (doll’s,) Breatthouse (elsewhere always Breathhouse,) a missing end quotation mark (x4, one in Appendix II,) snuck (sneaked,) “for the the first hour” (only one ‘the’ required,) “in regard, to why you are here” (no comma needed,) airplane (aeroplane.) “Every tree … had been stripped of their bark” (of its bark,) “nasal wines” (whines.)

Alasdair Gray

Sad, sad news.

Alasdair Gray has died.

If he had never done anything else in his life his first novel Lanark (arguably four novels) would have made him the most important Scottish writer of the twentieth century’s latter half, if not the whole century. (Perhaps only Lewis Grassic Gibbon rivals him in that respect.)

But of course he published 8 more novels, the last of which I read in 2009, 4 books of short stories – see this review of one of them – 3 of poetry (I reviewed a couple here and here,) many pieces for theatre, radio and television plus books of criticism (as here) and commentary (eg see here).

Yet that was not the least of it. There is also his work as an artist and illustrator to take into account. His drawing/painting style was unique and uniquely recognisable; much admired and sought after.

A polymath and curmudgeon, learned and contrary, Gray was one of a kind.

Even as his work lives on we will miss his acerbic presence.

And I still have his The Book of Prefaces to peruse.

Alasdair Gray: 28/12/1934 – 29/12/2019. So it goes.

Best of 2019

These are the books that stood out from my reading this year – in order of when I read them. 7 by men, 6 by women. 3 were SF or Fantasy.

The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif
Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land by John Crowley
Hy Brasil by Margaret Elphinstone
Shiloh by Shelby Foote
A Strangeness in my Mind by Orhan Pamuk
The Lantern Bearers by Ronald Frame
Gone Are the Leaves by Anne Donovan
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
A Pass in the Grampians by Nan Shepherd
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Reading Scotland 2019

This was my Scottish reading (including a Scottish setting) in 2019.

Those in bold were in that list of 100 best Scottish Books.

15 by women, 15 by men, one non-fiction,* two with fantastical elements.

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
A Concussed History of Scotland by Frank Kuppner
Romanno Bridge by Andrew Greig
Winter by Ali Smith
Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land by John Crowley
The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
Tunes of Glory by James Kennaway
Hy Brasil by Margaret Elphinstone
Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle
The Land the Ravens Found by Naomi Mitchison
The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark
Independence by Alasdair Gray*
The Lantern Bearers by Ronald Frame
Gone Are the Leaves by Anne Donovan
Children of the Dead End by Patrick MacGill
A Pass in the Grampians by Nan Shepherd
Brond by Frederic Lindsay
The Bullet Trick by Louise Welsh
The Siege of Trencher’s Farm by Gordon Williams
Its Colours They Are Fine by Alan Spence
Reality, Reality by Jackie Kay
Salem Chapel by Mrs Oliphant
Transcription by Kate Atkinson
Spring by Ali Smith
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner
Jelly Roll by Luke Sutherland
The Citadel by A J Cronin

Memoirs of a Spacewoman by Naomi Mitchison
Where the Bodies Are Buried by Christopher Brookmyre

Where the Bodies Are Buried by Chris Brookmyre

Abacus, 2012, 411 p.

 Where the Bodies Are Buried cover

Aspiring actress Jasmine Sharp is another of Brookmyre’s innocents brought into contact with violent criminals. Her failure to get any parts has led her Uncle Jim to hire her to help out in his Private Investigator practice. Not that she’s very good at that either, yet The trouble is he’s disappeared and she needs to find him and to earn money. Her attempts to interest the police in looking for him fall flat.

We start, though, with the murder of a smalltime Glasgow gangster, Jai McDiarmid but the connection between this and what turns out to be the main plot is somewhat tenuous. Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod is put on his case, allowing Brookmyre to highlight the denizens of the Glasgow outwith-the-law fraternity. McLeod has the obligatory plagued personal life of the detective novel protagonist though her troubles are of a low-key variety.
A file on Uncle Jim’s desk reveals he was looking into a decades old disappearance of parents and a child on behalf of the left behind daughter. Jasmine’s efforts to follow this up lead her to hardman Tron Ingrams, once known as Glen Fallan, who has been thought dead for twenty years.

The lead characters are not as interesting as those in Brookmyre’s Jack Parlabane and Angelique de Xavia novels. Or, are they just more perfunctorily drawn? Moreover the prose rarely if ever rises above the functional. Where the Bodies Are Buried feels like crime writing by the numbers.

“He who controls the spice controls the universe” which Brookmyre characterises as an eighties movie reference does however show his affinity with Science Fiction.

Pedant’s corner:- “there are a select few semiologists” (strictly, there is a select few,) “… person to be sat in front of me” (seated, or, sitting,) Collins’ (Collins’s,) growed-up (surely even hard-boiled Glaswegians say ‘grown-up’,) Cairns’ (Cairns’s,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech, Ingrams’ (Ingrams’s,) “coming off of” (I know it’s Glaswegian dialect but this was in ‘normal’ prose; coming off, no ‘of’,) middle-age spread (it’s usually middle-aged spread,) “oblivious of the tension” (it’s ‘oblivious to’.) Central station (it’s a proper noun, Central Station,) Motley Crue (I believe that band spells its name with erroneous umlauts, Mötley Crüe.)

Memoirs of a Spacewoman by Naomi Mitchison

Women’s Press, 1985, 149 p. © 1962, First published in the UK, 1976.

Memoirs of a Spacewoman cover

I read this when I first bought it many moons ago but couldn’t actually remember much about it other than it was a bit dry. Re-reading partially reinforces that impression. Much of it is told not shown and the overall effect tends towards the intellectual. That said, it is never less than interesting.

Our narrator Mary is a communications expert who has gained employment on the intergalactic expeditions sent from Earth to contact and understand the aliens on the target planets. Non-interference with the alien life-forms is the guiding principle of the expeditions. On her travels Mary encounters radiates, a bit like starfish, who therefore have no binary view of the universe, and creatures who form grafts on others’ surfaces as a means of reproduction. Mary accepts such a graft and finds herself mentally dissociating somewhat and mysteriously attracted to water. All creatures who agree to such a graft (dogs for example) tend to be unwilling to repeat the experience.

Reference is made to Mary’s relationships with the various fathers of her children but there is more or less no exploration of these and not much more of the hermaphrodite Martian, Vly who somehow manages to engender her haploid child, Viola. (Martians communicate via sex organs.) Keeping contact – or even contemporaneity – with partners is admittedly made difficult by the time blackout caused by space voyaging.

The bulk of the text, though, is devoted to the life-forms on a planet which bears pattern-making “caterpillars” whose patterns are painfully disrupted by “butterflies” they refer to as “masters”. Teasing out the relationships between these creatures takes Mary and her companions a while. Some tension is caused by this as one of the expedition members becomes too close to the “caterpillars”.

In its depiction of a society in which women are on an equal footing with men as scientists and explorers – and in more general senses – as well as in its exploration of the details of alien reproduction Memoirs of a Spacewoman was something of a trail-blazer. That makes it an important (I hesitate to say seminal) pioneering work of SF.

Pedant’s corner:- Extra points for hyaena (now defunct, as hyena has become the accepted spelling.) Otherwise; “I liked in that he had tried” (‘I liked it that he had tried’ makes more sense,) “assemblement of data” (assemblement? Assembly, or assemblage, of data, surely?) “Peder was much interested” (‘very interested’ is the more natural expression,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech, aureolus (that means golden. I suspect aureola was intended,) in, “We might unwittingly destroy some life which was not induced to move out by any of these stimuli, and of course we destroyed vegetation,” life is contrasted with vegetation (but vegetation is, of course, alive,) Silis’ (Silis’s,) furtheir (further,) Miss Hayes’ (Hayes’s.) Miss Hayes sent off on long expeditions” (Miss Hayes set off on…,) the text describes alien creatures in Earthly terms as eg ‘reptiles,’ ‘caterpillars,’ ‘butterflies’ (I know this usage is for purposes of familiarity for the reader but animals on other worlds would/will not come under the same biological classifications as on Earth,) “as regard” (usually as regards,) follicules (follicles.)

Jelly Roll by Luke Sutherland

Anchor, 1998, 411 p. One of the 100 best Scottish Books.

 Jelly Roll cover

When a book’s epigraph is the passage from Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus which ends in, “Why this is hell, nor am I out of it,” as uttered by Mephistopheles, you know its contents will not be an unalloyed bundle of laughs. Jelly Roll has its lighter moments but the subject matter is indeed serious.

The novel starts when Glasgow jazz band The Sunny Sunday Sextet’s saxophonist, Malc, who is a bit of a psychopath, decides, for domestic reasons, to stop playing with them. The ensuing discussions among the band’s members – in uncompromising Glasgow dialect – relate to whether to give up altogether or find a replacement, and even if doing the latter would be a wise move given Malc’s likely reaction. The prospect of a tour of the Highlands and Islands has the potential to sway things. The group’s drummer Paddy introduces narrator Roddy Burns (whose tipple is the unlikely Bailey’s) to his sister’s boyfriend Liam; who plays like a dream. He seems the perfect answer, young, gifted and ……. black. Embarrassments ensue when he comes along to the next band practice as Roddy has somehow neglected to mention that last fact to the other members. He thinks they are being racist and they think he is, precisely because he didn’t mention it. Liam’s response is to ignore any tension. It turns out this is his strategy to cope with the harassments he habitually has to endure because of his skin colour.

The novel then jumps forward in time to describe incidents occurring during the tour, taking in a roll-call of Scottish towns – Blairgowrie, Dunkeld, Crieff, Fort William, Inverness, Portree, Ullapool – which are usually described by an italicised gazetteer entry. (Ullapool’s is a touch harsh. It merely says herring 1788.) It is obvious we have missed something in the interim. A later return to events which occurred after Malc rejoined the band, with Liam as a supposed backing saxophonist, fills in the gaps. Malc is an unreconstructed racist, as his dubbing of Liam as ‘Banana’ emphasises. His tendency to violence and to pick fights is displayed in several scenes, including the plot’s fulcrum. Not that Malc is alone in his racism or indeed his violence. The band’s reception at one of the venues develops into a rammy due to elements of the audience taking exception to Liam’s appearance.

I assume the book gains its title from Roddy’s penchant for “jellies” (diazepam.) When I first read the blurb on the back I declined to buy it thinking it would not be for me but given my wish to complete that “100 Best Scottish Books” list (at least all the fiction on it) I subsequently could not ignore a charity shop copy at a very reasonable price. I was pleasantly surprised – depictions of violence notwithstanding: there is a lot more going on in Jelly Roll than I have commented on. Its appearance on the list may be due to its highlighting of racism (in his youth Sutherland was the only Scots-African in Orkney) but it is certainly better written than some others which are on it.

Pedant’s corner:- the speaker grill (grille,) sunk (x3, sank,) sprung (sprang,) peninsular (peninsula,) “another thing comin” (another think,) whinging (to me ‘whingeing’ is the better spelling,) duffelcoat (duffel coat,) “to fall back onto” (fall back on to,) span (spun,) the watersedge (the water’s edge,) lungeing (conversely, lunging,) “seemlessly into the cultural fabric” (seamlessly,) twinging (twingeing,) Hawkins’ (Hawkins’s,) doppleganger (doppelganger,) “‘Ah’m ah fuck?’” (‘Am ah fuck.’) “fob us of” (off,) windowledge (window ledge,) Dunkin Doughnuts (I believe the company spells it Donuts,) “a hand held short” (hand held shot,) snuck (sneaked.)

The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner

Jonathan Cape, 2010, 398 p.

The Stars in the Bright Sky cover

This is a sequel of sorts to Warner’s 1998 novel The Sopranos where a group of girls from the school Our Lady of Perpetual Succour went on a trip to Edinburgh from their town – known in Warner’s novels as ‘the Port’ – for a choir competition, but they saw it instead as an opportunity for a night on the razz in the big city.

Now adults, Kylah, Chell, Manda, Kay, Finn and Finn’s friend from university, Ava, are planning a holiday abroad. They meet up on a Friday evening at a hotel near Gatwick Airport preparatory to utilising a last minute booking for taking off to Europe, settling on Magaluf as a destination.

Much has changed since The Sopranos. In the interim one of them has had an abortion, another a baby – always referred to by mother Manda as ‘wee Sean’ – by a waster of a father, and Finn’s studies at Oxford have created a distance between them. She has, for instance, never been to Rascals, the Port’s newest night venue, which Manda in particular regards as the height of sophistication. (I use that last word in its modern sense rather than the original of world-weariness.) Despite, though, Ava’s upper middle class background they begin to settle down together and forge – or re-forge – bonds. Manda is something of a force of nature, overbearing and scornful, but also vulnerable. It is through her mislaid passport that the group’s plans go awry and they are forced to forfeit the already outlaid money and to spend the weekend in or around the airport and its hotels waiting for a cheap flight to Las Vegas. The interlude provides time for an eventful trip to Hever Castle and back plus copious drinking opportunities.

Incidental comments and snippets underline the contrast between those who stayed in the Port and those who left and Warner’s focus on the girls’ relationships lends a creeping claustrophobia to the situation. Their knowledge of and regard for each other, though, remain the central core of the book. Yet there are still revelations. In one break away from the others Finn describes Ava to Kay as “a legendary, awful cokehead” who, she hopes, has given it up.

Perhaps a not-so-subtle note of class consciousness on Warner’s part occurs when Ava says, “‘When you’ve plenty money there’s no such thing as a drug problem,’” because your parents can get a lawyer to get you off on a first offence. Yet if you live on a council estate the authorities will throw the book at you. Ava continues, “‘It’s all semantics. What problem? You have a supply, you have no drug problem.’”

As befits his characters the dialogue tends to the earthy but Warner’s ability to get inside the heads of young women eager for a bit of hedonism (some of whom are customarily given small chance of that) is impressive.

I did not much take to The Sopranos when I read it, nor to the rest of Warner’s early work, as I said here on his later novel The Deadman’s Pedal. However I found both that and his The Worms Can Carry Me to Heaven more congenial. The Stars in the Bright Sky was published between those two books. Does it say something about me or Warner’s later writing that I had less of an aversion to it than to The Sopranos? (I’m not in a hurry to go back to that book and check, though. Too much else to read.)

Pedant’s corner:- ballisters (balusters,) a missing end quote mark, “‘you credit card’” (your credit card,) ass (it’s ‘arse’ – which is employed later,) “the swinging toilets door” (toilets’ or toilet’s.) “Hanging from … were a gang of” (was a gang of.) “A moody pocket of lads were stepping out” (strictly, a pocket .. was stepping out.) “A babble of excited voices were …” (strictly, a babble … was,) “a vast mass of …were visible” (a vast mass … was visible,) “high jinx” (high jinks,) sprung (sprang.) “The vast bulk of … were back” (the vast bulk …. was back.) “‘That a sweet thing ..’” (That’s a sweet thing,) “the camera was a snugged, tight lump was in the skirt pocket” (no second ‘was’ needed,) “laying in the lap” (lying,) shrunk (shrank,) “she was laying out long upon her bed” (she was lying out,) sunk (sank,) “with a curled lips” (no ‘a’.) “‘You don’t seems nervous.’” (seem,) “a dossal attached to their sides” (dorsal?)

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Harper Collins , 2017, 342 p.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine cover

This novel is divided into three sections, the very long Good Days, the shorter Bad Days and the even shorter Better Days. Viewpoint character (and narrator) Eleanor Oliphant is a loner who affects to be precise and fastidious, with supposedly little grasp of cultural norms, a bit of a joke to her work colleagues. But she sends herself to sleep at the weekend with a couple of bottles of vodka.

Eleanor Oliphant is, of course, far from fine. It is apparent from very early on that her narration is likely to be unreliable – the vodka alone would suggest that – but Eleanor’s past is obviously very troubled indeed. Her abusive, and abusing, mother talks to her once a week over the phone from prison. The crime she committed we don’t know until much later (but a series of hints, subtle and otherwise, the biggest being the fact of Eleanor’s facial scarring, allows us to guess) and she is responsible for many of Eleanor’s attitudes to society, her peers, officialdom and herself. It is her mother’s inner voice that Eleanor hears when she is considering any course of action.

It’s a fine line to tread as an author where the reader knows that bit more about what might be going on than the narrator seems to, an even finer one when the narrator is hiding things from herself (and therefore necessarily from us.) By and large Honeyman succeeds in this, though.

Eleanor has conceived a liking for, an attachment to, singer Johnnie Lomond, whom she thinks might be the one to make her whole. She has, of course, never met him; so has no idea of his character. Into her orbit comes the IT man at her workplace, Raymond, who to Eleanor’s eyes is slovenly in dress and appearance and repugnant in habits due to his smoking. (Drinking vodka to excess seems to be all right, but smoking isn’t.) Nevertheless, Raymond and she begin to go out for lunch occasionally. It never crosses the narrative’s mind that this may be a prelude to more than friendship (but then Eleanor is obsessed by Mr J Lomond.)

When Raymond teases out some details of her past she denies it was so bad and says she thinks herself lucky because, after her mother was off the scene, she was looked after by adults. That did not stop her from again suffering abuse – mental, physical and sexual, mercifully briefly described – by a boyfriend she had at University.

Perhaps the crucial point of the novel is when Raymond and Eleanor witness the collapse in the street of an oldish man called Sammy, to whose aid they come, calling an ambulance and accompanying him to the hospital. In the aftermath of this they become almost part of Sammy’s family.

Her inevitable breakdown comes and Eleanor starts to see a therapist. Initially reluctant to reveal anything of herself she eventually lets her guard down and we learn the details of her childhood trauma.

Or do we? We only have Eleanor’s word for it that those events as described to us are true. It is a testament to Honeyman’s handling of the narrative (a few slips in Eleanor/Honeyman’s precision aside) that even after the revelations there is still a niggling doubt as to who was responsible. It remains possible that hidden deep inside her there is an alternative, much darker, explanation for the tragedy that befell Eleanor’s family. After all Eleanor Oliphant is an unreliable narrator, and quite possibly, disingenuous.

Pedant’s corner:- “bon mots” (bons mots,) “Mr J Lomond Esq.” (the correct description is either Mr J Lomond, or, J Lomond Esq.) snuck (x2, sneaked,) Mearns’ (Mearns’s.) “None of his muscles were visible” (none … was visible,) “there were a variety of” (there was a variety of,) “at the hairdressers” (hairdresser’s,) sprung (sprang,) crystalizing (crystallising.)

Spring by Ali Smith

Hamish Hamilton, 2019, 346 p.

When a novel starts with a diatribe containing, among other like things, the words,“What we don’t want is facts. What we want is bewilderment. What we want is repetition. What we want is repetition. What we want is people in power saying the truth is not the truth … we want muslim women a joke in a newspaper column we the laugh we want the sound of that laugh behind them wherever they go,” and we recognise them as an accurate reflection of the times then we know the body politic has gone to a deep, dark, unpleasant place – and we also know that literature is probably not up to the task of ameliorating it. This is the first of a series of interludes which separate the “story” elements of Ali Smith’s third instalment in dissecting post EU referendum Britain. Not all these interludes articulate an anti-Brexit viewpoint. The opposite attitude is also given a voice as is the hidden data-mining agenda of social media platform providers.

There’s more in that first diatribe though. “We need to suggest the enemy within… we need enemies of the people we want their judges called enemies of the people we want their journalists called enemies of the people we want the people we decide are enemies of the people called enemies of the people we want to say loudly over and over again on as many tv and radio shows as possible how they’re silencing us … we need news to be what we say it is. We need words to mean what we say they mean. We need to deny what we’re saying while we’re saying it.”

And it’s chilling when set down all at once. Against that, what chance has a mere novel of gaining traction?

The plot is bifold. Richard Lease, an old producer of TV plays (which is to say a producer of TV plays in the past, not that he’s not knocking on a bit) who speaks to an imaginary child, a version of the daughter he no longer speaks to in the real world, has been invited to produce a new programme – an adaptation of a literary novel about Kathleen Mansfield and Rainer Maria Rilke – who happened to live in the same hotel in Switzerland in 1922 but didn’t meet – and in which nothing much happens. The TV script is appalling though, having the two embark on an affair even though Mansfield at the time was on her death bed. Richard goes to his old script-writer friend Paddy (Patricia Heal) for advice. She is ill and her children desire as little disturbance to her as possible. Her eventual death hits Richard hard and he decides to take a trip north on a train, and he tries to commit suicide when he disembarks.

The second strand involves Brit (Brittany Hall) an officer in a detention centre who finds her humanity being ground down by the system; soul crushing for detainees and officers both. Here a young girl has somehow walked into the centre and got to talk to its governor, persuading him to have the toilets cleaned properly. It is also rumoured that the same girl had managed to infiltrate a brothel to dissuade punters from their intentions and emerged unscathed. Even if it is a riff on Shakespeare’s Pericles this magic realist style intrusion is troubling. That literary form emerged from societies where freedom of expression suffered certain constraints. Is this where we are now? Is this our salvation? Our only hope of some humanity in public services is through magical interventions? Where truth is not the first casualty of war but a hostage to whoever can shout loudest? Where to assert something is to demand that thing’s validity be unquestioned? Against Twitter and Facebook, literature is a lumbering sloth.

A further comment on the times is given when a dying Paddy says, “‘I’m that thing nobody out there thinks is relevant any more. Books. Knowledge. Years of reading. All of which means? I know stuff,’” and another reflects, “She’s, what’s the word? Another old word from history and songs that nobody uses in real life anymore. She is good.”

The two strands come together when the young girl speaks to Richard as he is lying on the railway line and says she needs him to stop that. Thereafter all three travel on to Culloden Moor for a dénouement of sorts.

Given what has gone before, the hint of regeneration – of the month of April being characterised as a harbinger of better times to come, of spring as when the old gods are about to be reborn is perhaps a little optimistic.

Pedant’s corner:- This book has that unjustified right margin which is a feature of all Smith’s publications. Otherwise; “she walked passed” (past,) an uncapitalised beginning to a sentence.

free hit counter script