Fair Helen

May 7, 2014 § 2 Comments

The historical novel often gets a bad press, especially in Scotland where Sir Walter Scott has cast a long, and unfairly prejudicial, shadow. As if to prove my point, this month’s novel, ‘Fair Helen’ by Andrew Greig, is inspired by the Border ballad, ‘Fair Helen of Kirkconnel Lea’, which was published by Scott in Volume II of ‘The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. But, if talk of Sir Waldo is putting you off, then think again. ‘Fair Helen’ is a thrilling tale set in a time and place which deserve to be discovered and explored.

Hugh MacDiarmid once proclaimed “Not Burns, Dunbar”, meaning that Scots should be looking further back than Robert Burns, Walter Scott and James Hogg to the early makars, such as William Dunbar and Robert Henryson, to understand best its own history or culture, and this is exactly what Greig does in his novel. Set in the late 16th century, the narrator is Henry Langton, an educated and well travelled man who is called back to Scotland to aide his friend, Adam Fleming, who believes himself in grave danger. This sets the scene for swordplay, affairs of the heart, discussions about Athenian democracy, references to Michel de Montaigne, and ballad mongering at its best.

If you know your Scottish ballads, you may be aware of why Adam is so afeart for his life. He has fallen for the legendary charms of Helen of Annandale, who is the ‘Fair Helen’ of the novel’s title. What unfolds is a classic love triangle, with Harry on the sidelines to report events, (another common literary technique used in Scottish literature. Think Edward Waverley in Scott’s ‘Waverley’ – damn, I mentioned him again). The story behind the song has been referred to as Scotland’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’, but Greig takes that idea to weave a story which touches on the politics and obsessions of the day, and beautifully portrays a time in Scotland’s history where town and country living was starting to become distinctly different.

I was drawn to ‘Fair Helen’ as this is a part of Scotland I know well, having been brought up for some of my childhood, in and around Annandale. When my mum found out about this book she was excited as she grew up knowing about Fair Helen and Adam Fleming, and many of the other ballads from that part of Scotland. It is a rich and rewarding tradition, and if you are not aware of it then ‘Fair Helen’ is a great place to start.

Greig has written a novel which captures 16th century Scotland, but with a vivacity, and often crudity, which would make Chaucer, or indeed Henryson, proud. There are enough belches, farts and double entendres to cater for the basest reader. Imagine Alasdair Gray crossed with James Hogg and you have an idea what to expect.

Greig’s language is perhaps the book’s greatest triumph, as he manages to use the Scots of the time but make it seem exactly what it would have been, everyday speech. There is an index at the back if you wish to know the exact meaning of ‘clart’, ‘cleuch’ or ‘coory’, but my guess is that you won’t need to as you’ll know more of these words than you may think, and even if you don’t it doesn’t spoil the enjoyment of the book. That’s the greatest achievement of ‘Fair Helen’; it is a timely reminder, if anyone needed one, that Scotland has a rich and varied history, language and culture to be explored, to be shared, and to be proud of.


*’Fair Helen’ is dedicated in memory of Gavin Wallace, who, as Greig writes ‘…cared for our literature and its makars.’. I would like to echo those sentiments here as Wallace, who passed away last year, was a man whose enthusiasm for Scottish writing and writers was inspirational to me, and many others.

Further thoughts on Scottish books, film, music, comedy, theatre and the like can be found at scotswhayhae which now has a Facebook home.

Next Month’s Novel: Frank Kuppner’s ‘A Very Quiet Street’ is described as ‘a novel, of sorts’ and is as enigmatic as that description suggests. It is part investigative journalism, part tour of Glasgow and part autobiography…or is it?

Written to be one of Polygon Books Sigma series of the late 1980s, which set out to challenge the perceived notions of what literature could be, it is one of those books which keeps you guessing until the very end not only because of the content, but due to the style and form itself. And then you have to start again to see just what you’ve missed.


Under The Skin

April 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

One of most eagerly anticipated film of recent years, at least round these parts, was Jonathan Glazer’s ‘Under The Skin’, much of which was shot on the streets of Glasgow, with an (almost) unrecognisable Scarlett Johansson in the lead role. You can read my review of the film over at Scots Whay Hae!, but news of the film sent me back to the source novel, Michel Faber’s ‘Under The Skin’, a book which blew me away when it was published back in 2000, and now I have re-read it it is even better than I remember, offering up lots of new secrets, insights and in-jokes second time around.

The book focuses on the life and work of Isserley, a very unusual woman whose job is to pick up suitable hitchhikers on the A9 and take them back to Ablach Farm in the Scottish Highlands for processing. Only the finest specimens are selected, and she takes her time making sure they are suitable for her employer’s requirements. She is the hunter and gatherer who has been adapted for a very specific purpose.

* If you haven’t read the book, then the rest of this column contains spoiler. To enjoy the full affect go away and do so first, then come back to us.*

Isserley is part of a team of aliens who have come to earth to farm the best humans for their meat, which is to be sent back to their home planet as a prohibitively expensive delicacy. Isserley takes to the road to pick up those men who won’t be missed, therefore preventing attention falling on their operation. To pass as a human she has been shaved and has had major surgery to allow her to walk on two legs rather than the usual four. She has also had a pair of large breasts added to her to seduce the men to get into the vehicle in the first palce. This has rendered her looking “half Baywatch babe, half little old lady”. The sad thing is, this simple and primitive plan works as only one of those who takes a seat beside her looks past her chest to notice that she is a very strange looking woman indeed. Actually, the sad thing is that this is quite believable.

Isserley feels nothing for these men to begin with, and has no desire to see what happens once she hands them over to the farm hands, but the arrival of Amlis Vess, a handsome young aristocrat from home, causes her to consider what she is doing. He is, for want of a better term, an animal rights activist, and believes that this farming of local livestock is wrong. When he releases some of the captives it causes havoc, as they are no longer in any shape to look after themselves, and have to be hunted down and recaptured or destroyed. He is an idealist with no understanding of what happens on the farm, but his actions cause Isserley to have her own doubts.

Faber goes into detail about the processes which the captives have to go through to be fit for purpose, and they are truly horrific. They are also truly accurate when you compare them to many of the farming techniques undertaken to sate our love of, for example, veal, foie gras, or even a simple roast chicken. The comparisons aren’t subtle, but they are very effective as a result.

Isserley begins to realise that these men she picks up all have stories to tell, and people who love them. Her own isolation and situation, with her now being neither one thing nor the other, means that she begins to understand them more. Crucially, she also begins to understand their language more, which is when she starts to feel empathy, and that puts her in a dangerous position. Her growing belief that she shares something with these creatures proves to be her downfall, as she comes to realise that what they share is also the ability to be cruel and destructive

‘Under The Skin’ is one of those unputdownable books; you have to get to the very end to get the whole story, and then you want to start all over again to see what clues you missed first time round. It is so layered that you keep coming across connections to other films and books when you least expect it, all of which adds to your understanding of what Faber is trying to achieve. My favourite is the use of the line from the original Planet of the Apes, “Get your stinking paws off me” which Isserley utters when she is attacked by one of her passengers, with the rest of the quote “you damn dirty ape” only implied.

You can read ‘Under the Skin’ on many levels; sci-fi thriller, horror, satire or even philosophical treatise, but however you do you can’t get away from how well it is written. It is not a case of style over substance though, and Faber is always looking at the bigger picture. By tackling some important themes with humour and horror he has managed to make a book about aliens farming humans in the Scottish Highlands one of the most involving books you will read in a long time.


Further thoughts on Scottish books, film, music, comedy, theatre and the like can be found at scotswhayhae which now has a Facebook home.

The books that we deal with in ‘Indelible Ink’ can be bought from the Dear Scotland shop:

Next Month’s Novel: It can be argued that Scotland is the birthplace of the historical novel, with Sir Walter Scott being the granddaddy of them all. Unfairly derided by some, such novels continue to be hugely popular, and the history of Scotland remains particularly attractive.

Andrew Greig is perhaps best known for his poetry, but he is also a novelist, and his 2013 novel, ‘Fair Helen’, is a fantastic addition to the historical genre. Based on the Border ballad ‘Fair Helen of Kirkconnel Lea’, it is a love story rich with Scots’ language and imagery, and if you are not familiar with the Border ballads, it is the perfect introduction to one of Scotland’s finest storytelling traditions.

Hy Brasil

March 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

Could a small nation, with a history of being part of a larger whole, become independent with its own version of the pound and its own parliament, no army, but under the protection of NATO due to its strategic position? Could it not only survive, but thrive? It’s an intriguing question, and anyone interested in finding the answer should read Margaret Elphinstone’s 2002 novel ‘Hy Brasil’. It has plenty of political interest, and intrigue, but it is also one of the most outright entertaining reads of the books featured in ‘Indelible Ink’; a boy’s own adventure with adult concerns.

Imagine Robert Louis Stevenson were writing today. There could still be tales of pirates, smugglers, island life and rumours of treasure, but now the contraband would be more likely drugs than pieces of eight. All of these things are referenced or alluded to in ‘Hy Brasil’, which is about an island of that name; one which runs its own affairs, and where the past and present are inextricably linked.

Nothing is as it seems, with even the opening premise built on deception. A writer, Sidony Redruth, has been commissioned to write the first ever travel book about the island after winning first prize in a competition. However, she faked her winning entry, and now struggles with the resulting guilt, while also realising that she has lucked her way to the opportunity of a life time. In the opening paragraph she proclaims “…I think I’d rather have travelling than sex.”, which seem more like a justification than a proclamation.

When we first meet Sidony she is sitting in Caliban’s Fast Food Diner, and the allusion to Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ is not only deliberate, it is just one of the myriad of literary references which are peppered regularly throughout. She picks up a flier for ‘Ishmael’s Whale Watching Tours’, finds out about places on the island such as Hogg’s Cove, Dorado and Mt Prosper (there’s a map at the beginning of the book so readers have a clear sense of place). She discovers that the four founding fathers of Hy Brasil have the surnames ‘Baskerville’, Hawkins’, ‘Honeyman’ and’ Hook’, and the local newspaper is ‘The Hesperides Times’, and that’s all in the first chapter. There is even an ‘Isle of Despair’.

This is not a case of Elphinstone showing off her bookshelves; the sense of playfulness is unavoidable and constant. Hy Brasil itself is, according to Wikipedia, “a phantom island which was said to lie in the Atlantic Ocean, west of Ireland. In Irish myths it was said to be cloaked in mist, except for one day each seven years, when it became visible but still could not be reached.” . As Sidony sits in Caliban’s, she is waiting for the famous fog to lift. You are never allowed to forget that this is an island of fiction, in more ways than one, and there are plenty of references which remind you that the novel is a construction of the imagination, (one of the coast guards’ lockers even bears the name ‘R. Elphinstone’). As a result you are never sure what to believe.

 ‘Hy Brasil’ is a novel which could be described as magical realist, and there is more than a hint of the influence of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Louis de Bernieres. There is certainly the romance and mystery which both of those writers do so well, but also there are the political and social details of the strange lands they are writing about, which is where the realism resides. Elphinstone outlines the public transport system of Hy Brasil, the exchange rate, how the parliament decided which side of the road to drive on, and how trade was maintained. If that all sounds dull as dishwater, then I have misled you. It gives detailed background to the other strands in the novel which lends them a reality which they may not deserve. As a result the events seem even more strange. When the land itself, a character in its own right, appears to rebel against those who inhabit it, you have a clear sense of just what it is it may be rebelling against.


Further thoughts on Scottish books, film, music, comedy, theatre and the like can be found at scotswhayhae which now has a Facebook home.

The books that we deal with in ‘Indelible Ink’ can be bought from the Dear Scotland shop:

Next Month’s Novel: One of the most eagerly anticipated films of recent years is out in the next month; Jonathan Glazer’s ‘Under The Skin’, which stars Scarlett Johansson as an earth bound alien who prowls the streets of Glasgow looking for men.

Sounds unlikely? Well, next month’s novel will look at the source material for the film, Michel Faber’s book of the same name, which is quite a remarkable read. Dark, deadly, macabre and mysterious, if you haven’t experienced it yet, I can promise you are in for a strange and intriguing treat.

The Big Music

February 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

I first came across the term ‘The Big Music’ with reference to The Waterboys in the early 1980s. It was the name of a track on their 1984 album, ‘A Pagan Place’ and I think it was Mike Scott, in an interview from that time, who explained this was what the band aimed to make; music that looked at the wonders of the natural world, and tried to capture that in an ‘epic’ manner. This label was soon applied to other bands such as Echo and the Bunnymen, U2, Simple Minds (before all three upped the levels of production), Hot House Flowers and In Tua Nua, but no-one would come as close to fulfilling Scott’s template as those early Waterboys’ albums.

Reading the opening of Kirsty Gunn’s equally epic novel ‘The Big Music’ I had an inkling of where the music obsessed Scott may have been inspired to talk this way in the first place. Gunn’s uses the term as a definition of pìobaireachd, a classical composition form of the Highland bagpipe. If I can quote from the book;

“It is music that is written to be played outside or in a wide open space that may best set off its sound and range and scale, addressing large themes of loss and longing, of recognition and salute and farewell…And so is music that cannot make itself be small.”

Large in scale, all encompassing, and ‘addressing themes of loss and longing’, that is at the heart of ‘The Big Music’, and is a perfect description of Gunn’s novel. It is one of the most ambitious to feature on these pages, and it is not only about music, but is inspired by music; in the rhythm of the language, and in the lives of the characters. It is a lament for the past, for the passing of time, and for the loss of a culture, (of which music is only a part), which is unavoidable as a consequence.

By concentrating on the much maligned bagpipe, you may think that this sounds as if it is a novel obsessed with its own Scottishness, but all of the above will be applicable to other cultures wherever they are found, and it should be noted, although not overplayed, that Gunn is originally from New Zealand. What it does create is an unforgettable sense of place by looking not only at the people, but the landscape which shaped them, and the culture which arose from both.

The central character is John Sutherland, and the novel opens with him striding the hills of Sutherland in the Highlands with a tune in his head and a baby in his arms. He feels that this course of action is the only way he can capture the tune as he needs to. From this arresting introduction Gunn creates a world which the reader has to inhabit as completely as John does, as he recounts a personal and shared history that he fears will be lost as he nears the end of his own life.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the best Scottish novels, and if Kirsty Gunn’s ‘The Big Music’ isn’t on everyone’s list then I can only assume it is because those people haven’t read it yet. It is breathtaking in its attention to detail, and the prose has a wonderful lyricism which matches the novels themes. Other voices from member of John’s family punctuate his story, and their reaction to what unfolds adds layers of emotion and perspective to proceedings. Lovers of footnotes and appendices are in for a treat, and they fill in the gaps in terms of history, geography and even geology. There is also a List of Additional Materials, and you don’t have to know your lullaby from your lament or your taorluath from your urlar as there is a glossary of terms as well. Complex and involving, and demanding of its readers, ‘The Big Music’ makes you reconsider your own relationship with music, your culture and your country, both past and present.


Further thoughts on Scottish books, film, music, comedy, theatre and the like can be found at scotswhayhae which now has a Facebook home.

Next Month’s Novel: Margaret Elphinstone’s ‘Hy Brasil’ is that rarest of beasts, a Scottish magical-realist novel, and is a must read for lovers of Robert Louis Stevenson, as it includes piracy, smuggling, political intrigue and romance set against an exotic backdrop.

Other literary references include Shakespeare, Conan Doyle and James Hogg, but you do not need to know these to enjoy the book. It is a delight from start to finish, and can be read on any level you wish. As unexpected as it is welcome, ‘Hy Brasil’ adds yet another layer of intrigue to the complex picture that makes up Scottish literature.


December 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

In these columns talk has often turned to common themes in modern Scottish literature, but I hope the previous 49 novels, when taken as a whole, show as much diversity as unity, with different voices sometimes dealing with the same topics, but more often realising something completely new. In case this hasn’t come across, this month’s novel, Andrew Crumey’s ‘Pfitz’, unarguably stands on its own. It covers philosophy, literature, architecture, morality and even (psycho)geography, and Crumey has great fun uniting these themes to create a memorable one-off.

From the opening pages ‘Pfitz’ asks questions about existence, creation and art, introducing a Prince who desires to create the ideal city of Rreinnstadt, one which will only ever exist on paper, and if that seems a strange concept we have only just begun. To realise his creation he needs not only cartographers, to map the city , but also biographers, to bring the subjects of Rreinnstadt to life, and it is in these people’s lives, while they busy themselves creating other people’s lives, that the intrigue begins.

What drives the novel is unrequited love, as a cartographer, Schenck, seeks to get close to and impress a biographer, Estrella, by professing to have discovered the lost story of ‘Pfitz’, a servant to Count Zelneck, which Schenck has written himself. His ‘fiction’ uncovers mysteries and possibly murder in both worlds, and it is not only the reader who starts to question just what is real and what are ‘mere’ stories.

The novel it most resembles is Voltaire’s satire on 18th century western society ‘Candide’ as, like that text, it contemplates exactly what makes a society and the individuals who constitute it, but ‘Pfitz’ also touches on the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, Immanuel Kant and David Hume. In fact, the city under construction reminds me of Hume’s Edinburgh, when the whole ‘personality’ of that city was being changed with the planning and construction of the New Town, something seen as modern and idyllic. If you ever wanted proof of how a city is changed by how it is built then look at Edinburgh before and after this time and you will find it.

As Schenck continues his deceit in pursuit of Estrella he discovers other inconsistencies and irregularities, as some biographers are found to have been living vicariously through their subjects, even becoming confused as to which life is which. And this is the big idea from which all the others arise from in ‘Pfitz’, namely “What does it mean to exist, and who determines our lives?” Or, as Edgar Allan Poe put it, “Is all that we see or seem, but a dream within a dream?” Don’t expect any answers, but you’ll have great times thinking about it. This is not a novel to simply read, it demands not only your attention, but interaction.

‘Pfitz’ is an unapologetically clever novel of ideas, but it is also a love story, a murder/mystery, a fantasy and a comedy full of lust, revenge, treachery and dancing bees. Among the many theories it posits is that the reason any art is created is to ultimately impress someone who you desire, and that is one of those theories that is hard to disagree with, far more disprove. Even writing these reviews; you could ask who are they for, and why are they written? On reflection, I think I can answer that, but luckily I’ve just run out of words…


Further thoughts on Scottish books, film, music, comedy, theatre and the like can be found at scotswhayhae which now has a Facebook home.

Next Month’s Novel: New Zealand born Kirsty Gunn is one of Scotland’s best writers and it is an oversight on my part that she hasn’t yet appeared on these pages, but I will rectify that next month.

Her most recent novel, ‘The Big Music’, was many critics book of the year for 2012. Set against the backdrop of the Scottish Highlands, like ‘Pfitz’ it questions what it means to create, and specifically how the form of music relates to the culture which shapes it.

The Translator

November 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

One of the best things about reading books written in and of the country you live in is that they give you new perspectives on the familiar and everyday, making you look again at places and people you had long since taken for granted. In the last few years I have read work by English, Irish, Norwegian, Bulgarian, Zimbabwean, American and Chinese writers who live and write in Scotland, and their work is invaluable in creating a clearer picture of what a modern, multi-cultural, Scotland is like. If anyone tells you that doesn’t matter, they are wrong.

Leila Aboulela’s 1999 novel ‘The Translator’ makes the reader reappraise Scotland, and Aberdeen in particular. Sammar is the translator of the title; a Sudanese widow who is carrying guilt and grief in equal measure, and they are threatening to stop her living her life. The grief comes from the sudden death of her husband, Tarig, and her guilt lies in the fact that she has taken her young son, Amir, back to Khartoum to live with her family while she returns to work in Aberdeen. Actually, the real guilt comes from the fact that she doesn’t miss him.

She works at the university, and it is there she meets Rae Isles. Rae is an academic in Oriental and Islamic studies, although not a Muslim himself. This is something which confuses and frustrates Sammar as she grows more attracted to him. She needs him to convert to have any chance of marrying him, something she dreams of, yet she cannot propose this directly for fear of rejection. This cultural clash is at the heart of the novel, as Sammar tries to balance her belief system with not only that of Rae, but the city which surrounds her.

As the days count down to her leaving to return to Sudan, she tries to imagine and construct a future where she and Rae can be together, but wherever she turns she finds cultural, social, religious and linguistic differences are placed in their way, and she isn’t sure they can be overcome. The more she begins to understand Rae, all she can see is ultimate failure.

I have to mention the language in the novel. There is some of the most elegant prose you can imagine on show. In the opening chapters Sammar takes ill, and goes home with ‘eyelids heavy as coins’. Later, Rae proclaims that ‘loneliness is Europe’s malaria’, and there are many such poetic turns of phrase for the reader to savour and consider. While in Aberdeen, Sammar contemplates which is more blue, a tin of Nivea or the Nile? To her, colours, even in nature, are washed out and less vivid in Scotland, yet when she returns to Khartoum she does so wearing sunglasses as the sky is too blue. Like many who settle in more than one place, the concept of ‘home’ becomes a confusing one.

It had been years since I had read ‘The Translator’, and if it is the same for you I would urge you to revisit it. After recent, and indeed current, global events, the way it examines clashes of culture, and particularly religions, seems both prophetic and prescient. When Sammar worries that Rae may not be Christian after all, but an atheist, she cannot comprehend such a thing. She could understand that he believes in a different god, but not to believe in any; that is unthinkable. As Sammar says about translations, ‘meanings can be translated but not reproduced’. Rae and Sammar may understand each others words, but not what lies behind those words. But, as the end of the novel unfolds, it reminds us that if we do not understand each other at first, or at second, it should not stop us trying but should encourage us to try harder.


Further thoughts on Scottish books, film, music, comedy, theatre and the like can be found at scotswhayhae which now has a Facebook home.

Next Month’s Novel: Next month’s Indelible Ink is the 50th edition, and to celebrate we are setting a competition with a quite spectacular prize, the details of which will appear on these pages in the coming days, so keep an eye out for that.

The featured novel is Andrew Crumney’s ‘Pfitz’, a comic mystery which touches upon history, philosophy and cartography. It is one of those novels which have been largely forgotten, and which deserves to be read more widely. Based on the life of an eccentric 18th Century German prince, it is yet another example of the diverse nature of Scottish writing.

The Glass House

October 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

Sophie Cooke’s 2004 debut novel, ‘The Glass House’, fits comfortably into the fine Scottish literary tradition of portraying dysfunctional families, and uncovering the accompanying secrets and lies. It’s a painful coming of age novel juxtaposed against the beautiful Perthshire countryside, and it’s the terrible reality set against an apparent idyllic life that makes the novel so affecting, that and Cooke’s poetic language.

What sets ‘The Glass House’ apart is that the family in question are decidedly middle class, something rare in Scottish writing outside of an Iain Banks’ novel. Unlike Banks, there is never a sense that things are going to come to some sort of happy, if hard won, ending. From the beginning there is the uneasy sense of inevitable tragedy about to unfold,

The novel is narrated by Vanessa, a fourteen-year-old who has been expelled from her private school and so is forced to attend the local comprehensive. From the beginning it is obvious that Vanessa’s ideas of what love and hate are have been distorted by an intense and often abusive upbringing. This is a novel where extremes meet.

Vanessa falls in love with local, Alan McAlpine, and there are many scenes which are as Romantic and imbued with symbolism as anything by Austen or the Bronte’s. Alan offers her the hope of happiness and security, something which she can’t receive at home as her father has left, and she is under the spell of her troubled mother. This relationship is the most complex in the book as Vanessa is regularly ‘punished’, some may say tortured, by her mother, but this makes her crave her approval even more.

Vanessa’s narration is, if not quite dispassionate, certainly disconnected throughout, as if she is an observer in her own life and all that happens to her is actually happening to someone else, as if through the looking glass. There are many dramatic events which she recounts, but as if she is never truly involved, even when physical and psychological pain is being inflicted upon her. It’s as if she lives her life in what Sartre calls Bad Faith, refusing to choose one action or the other, instead letting events move her around. Her desire for the perfect family life has blinded her to reality. The rest of her family shout, scream, fight and flee as Vee continues to hope for better days, convincing herself that things will improve even as the evidence grows that matters can only take a turn for the worse.

If I have made ‘The Glass House’ sound unremittingly bleak, then I have misled you. There is joy to be found, and that comes from Cooke’s use of language, which is staggering at times. On every page you will discover a sentence or phrase that you want to commit to memory and use as your own. The sense of place and the natural world which she manages to convey make what is unfolding even starker. Its tone put me in mind of the end of the film ‘The Wicker Man’ which is all the more terrifying for being set against a glorious sunset. Both settings hold human failing up to even greater inspection, in the cold light of day. ‘The Glass House’ is beautiful, troubling, and ultimately tragic, a reflection of Vanessa’s life, and Cooke’s refusal to give any easy answers or compromise the story is what makes it one of the most engaging novels of the last decade.


Further thoughts on Scottish books, film, music, comedy, theatre and the like can be found at scotswhayhae which now has a Facebook home.

Next Month’s Novel: Over the past couple of years I have reviewed books from writers who, while originally from places such as Bulgaria, Manchester, China and Zimbabwe, sit easily in the world of Scottish writing in that their work has added to the depth and breadth of our culture, and have shown that Scotland is, or should be, a country which is inclusive, rather than the alternative.

I remember clearly the first time I picked up a copy of Leila Aboulela’s ‘The Translator’ in an Oxfam bookshop, and it gave me a view of this country and its people which I had never encountered before, and new perspectives are vital if any culture is to better understand itself and its ever evolving nature. It is a pleasure to revisit it, and I hope a few of you read it before next month’s column.

  1. Leila Aboulela, The Translator (Nov)
  2. 50th edition of Indelible Ink (Dec)