Sunday, May 06, 2007

My Own Personal Scottish Literature Festival

This time last year I was in Scotland, and I’m feeling rather mournful about the fact that I’m not there now. Perhaps it would be different if I were doing something else interesting instead. But, alas, no. With the excitement of my book launch fast receding, I find myself thoroughly mired in exam marking and committee meetings.

Of course, if I can’t travel in person, I can travel through books. So I declared this weekend a Scottish literature festival at my house and lined up three recent acquisitions for my reading pleasure.

First up is Weekend, William McIlvanney’s latest novel. Here’s the publisher’s synopsis:

In a Victorian mansion hotel on a Scottish island, a group of English Literature lecturers and students from Glasgow gather for a study weekend, though studying is not exactly what some of them have in mind. And the weekend does prove to be a major turning point in the emotional lives of several people—just not quite in the way any of them expected. As entertaining as it is thought-provoking, William McIlvanney's novel brilliantly illustrates how humans are driven by animal instincts, but have the mental capacity to analyse, harness and rue them. Which also means we continue to dream, even when our dreams fail us.

McIlvanney is a brilliant writer and I would happily read anything written by him. Even if that wasn’t so, however, I don’t think I could have resisted this combination of a Scottish island setting with academic satire.

Next on the list is Jackie Kay’s new collection of short stories, Wish I Was Here. I haven’t so much as flipped through this one yet, but based on her previous collection, Why Don’t You Stop Talking?, I count her among the very best of contemporary short story writers. Needless to say, my hopes for the new collection are high.

Finally, there’s The Stornoway Way by Kevin MacNeil. I bought this one while in Scotland last year but I’m only now settling down to read it. The front cover flap promises a novel that “chronicles the misadventures of an idiosyncratic young Scotsman cartwheeling further and further into a Hebridean hell, railing against the constraints of his extraordinary but vanishing island culture as well as western civilization in general.” I'm won over by the narrator’s voice right from the first paragraph:

Fuck everyone from Holden Caulfield to Bridget Jones, fuck all the American and English phoney fictions that claim to speak for us; they don’t know the likes of us exist and they never did. We are who we are because we grew up the Stornoway Way. We do not live in the back of beyond, we live at the very heart of beyond.

I promise a full report on each book as I finish it.


Kelly said...

I can't wait to read your reports. The first one looks particularly good! Like you I'm a Scotland fan.

darkorpheus said...

I picked up Jackie Kay's new collection recently, after reading one of the short stories, "Sonata" - like you, I am hopeful about the book.

John Nicoll said...

I am very excited by this blog. Even after a fleeting glance it looks like the kind of thing I would keep going back to.

Balloon Man