Courtesy of Canongate via
Anne Donovan’s debut novel, Buddha Da, was both critically acclaimed and avoided with a large bargepole by myself. Probably due to the fact that it is written in Scots. However, with a few more years in Scotland and the successful completion of Sunset Song, under my belt, I was ready to tackle the trials and tribulations of an adolescent Glaswegian female, particularly when Libarything offered me a review copy.
Ok, so I’m a little late for this review to qualify as early. The book was published in the UK on 1st May. It was the Scots and the imagined effort that made me pick it up and put it back down again a few times. Anyway I finally dived in …. and do you know, I was swimming within a couple of pages. No effort involved with the dialect at all!
The Emily of the title is Emily Bronte, with whom Fiona, the heroine, is fixated from a young age. It’s the Wuthering Heights syndrome. But Fiona is bright and can differentiate in a way that not many Heathcliff/Cathy fixated fans do.
Nice means you bumble along, no giving anyone offence, you’re no specially anything anyone can put their finger on, you’re nice. No one in Wuthering Heights is nice. Good, bad, mad, yes, but no nice.
Fiona’s life mirrors that of Emily in certain respects: a lost mother infuses tragedy, colour, confusion and trauma. Then there are the usual adolescent issues – inappropriate passion which adds self-imposed trials to her tribulations. In the vernacular, it’s a bit of a guddle. Yet, throughout Fiona remains a sympathetic character despite breath-taking thoughtlessness on one or two occasions. Her anger is channelled into her art: smashed barbies, burning houses, which allows her to stay close to home and her dysfunctional family. But can she escape the legacy of Emily’s ghost?
The dramative pull of the narrative is strong but spoiled slightly with ends that are far too neatly tied – a sugar-coating provided by an implausible saintly Sikh.
Fiona’s story won’t live long with me, I’m afraid, in contrast with the portrait of the city of Glasgow. While the descriptions won’t make the heart of Glaswegians rejoice, they are guaranteed to raise a cheer in the city on the other side.
Glasgow’s always putting on festivals but Edinburgh always manages to dae it bigger and better; there’s something feels haund-knitted about the way we dae things. Mibbe all the folk that know how tae run them get snapped up by Edinburgh and we get left with the has-beens. Mibbe it’s because Glaswegians cannae seem to go anywhere without leaving trails of sweetie wrappers and fast-food packages lying around behind them. Ot that we don’t know how tae dress. Or talk. Or something.
As a hand-knitter, I’ll forgive the insult, but aye – it’s certainly true that Glasgow has some catching up to do with regard to the book festival. The following pages, however, describing Fiona’s night out at the Glasgow Festival of Light have me entranced. Anyone know the dates for 2009?