My face-2-face reading group celebrates its 3rd anniversary in October and so this is a good time to review the impact it has had on my reading.
At one stage the 20 Scots decided that it was about time that I, the Sassenach in their midst, became educated in the ways of Scottish Literature. So we embarked on a themed read. The emphasis was firmly on contemporary Scottish literature, though we did pause to take in one or two undisputed Scottish masterpieces. It has been a surprising journey with some great discoveries along the way. There truly is a rich seam of Scottish literature to be mined and I will continue to do so.
Listed below are the novels in the sequence we read them.
In Another Light – Andrew Greig
Saltire Book of the Year 2004
Case Histories – Kate Atkinson
Saltire Book of the Year 2005
Atkinson is not usually thought of as a Scottish author, but she is of Scottish descent and lives in Edinburgh. Case Histories is a great read with Atkinson using her quirkiness and originality to extend the format of the detective novel. And it has one of the best opening chapters I have ever read.
Clara – Janice Galloway
Saltire Book of the Year 2002.
Magnificent. Full review here.
The Accidental – Ali Smith
Whitbread Novel Winner 2005
Text as awful as the paperback cover. Style over substance with far too much borrowing. The worse book of the lot.
44 Scotland Street / The Sunday Philosophy Club – Alexander McCall Smith
You can’t read contemporary Scottish literature and ignore the national treasure that is Alexander McCall Smith. His 44 Scotland Street series is set to become more famous that his Ladies Detective Agency and Bertie is a superstar. The Sunday Philosophy Club series is also set in Edinburgh. Entertaining enough but compared unfavourably to 44 Scotland Street.
The People’s Act of Love – James Meek
Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year 2006 / Ondaatje Prize 2006
Religious fervour and terrorism clash in Siberia during WWI leadinng to extreme behaviour on all sides. Despite the castration and cannibalism, this novel contains some beautifully written passages – reminiscent of Tolstoy. Yet group consensus was that we enjoyed discussing the book more than reading it!
Lanark – Alasdair Gray
This was an ambitious read and one which we extended over 3 months. We needed that long to decipher and digest the manifold realities and the magnificent imagination. Felt by many to be far too obscure. It fascinated me despite its difficulty. It took Alasdair Gray 30 years to write. I suspect it’ll take that long before my thoughts are ordered sufficiently to review it.
Sunset Song – Lewis Grassic Gibbon
Best Scottish Novel of All Time (Public vote 2005)
It’s easy to see why. The novel traces the social changes to the Scottish rural community following the onset of World War One. Chris Guthrie is one of the most finely painted female portraits to be penned by a man. The childbirth scene is particularly realistic Most of the novel is written in a Scots variant, invented by Gibbon himself (easier to read than pure Scots – Gibbon didn’t want to alienate his international audience. A multi-layered novel combining social commentary, emotional maturity and symbolic reference, it is truly a gem deserving all the praise it has received since publication in 1934.