The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark is one of those iconic Edinburgh novels. I’ve been meaning to read it since moving to Edinburgh almost 5 years ago. It’s physically alive in the streets of the city. Continue reading
The Furies by Natalie Haynes
At first I was confused by The Furies because it is called The Amber Fury in the UK, but in either case it is a great debut for Natalie Haynes, garnering her a nomination for the Edinburgh Book Festival First Book Award. The Furies is set in Edinburgh, at a school referred to as The Unit, for teens at risk. Alex finds herself teaching drama-therapy after the untimely death of her fiance. The combination of Alex’s troubles and the troubled teens leads to another tragedy. And that is where I will leave you. Continue reading
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
I recently read and reviewed A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie. As I mentioned then, Shamsie is one of my favorite South Asian writers, so when Ali at HeavenAli said Burnt Shadows was even better, I considered it a challenge. It had long been on my TBR list and decided now was the time to dive in. Continue reading
The Missing Shade of Blue by Jennie Erdal
I read The Missing Shade of Blue by Jennie Erdal as part of the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge put on by Roof Beam Reader. I first came across this book in 2013 at the Edinburgh Book Festival. As a new resident of Edinburgh I was immediately drawn to it since it is set in Edinburgh. Also, Erdal’s other book, Ghosting, has been on my radar for years.
I love reading books sets in places I know, and with that in mind I’m glad that I waited to read The Missing Shade of Blue. It is definitely a very Edinburgh book and gives a good feel of the city. Now that I know the city better I was able to picture exactly where the characters lived and conducted their lives.
The story is told by Eddie, a French translator who has come to Edinburgh to work on a book of David Hume‘s essays. He is quickly befriended by Harry Sanderson, a philosopher at the university, and becomes embroiled in the life of Sanderson and his wife. To large extent the novel is really about Sanderson and the scandal that envelopes his life.
As a lover of literature, I was keenly aware of the role that novels played in The Missing Shade of Blue. Eddie grew up in a bookshop in Paris and sees the world through the frame of books. He and Sanderson often refer to how life is sometime similar (or utterly dissimilar) to a novel.
Who would like this book? Erdal is a fine writer and I thoroughly enjoyed The Missing Shade of Blue. Language and words play a key role in the novel, as you would imagine when the main characters are a translator and a philosopher. Erdal does a commendable job at bringing Scottish life, fly fishing and Edinburgh to life. So far one of the aspects I’ve overlooked is fly fishing. The only other book I’ve read where this sport takes a starring role is Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday (don’t bother with the film, the books is so much better). Erdal’s book is not as humorous as Torday’s but brought the sport to life much more for me.
Robbie Burns Night Special: Scottish Literature
Aye, tis once again Robbie Burns night. Last year to celebrate I did a brief round up of the Scottish literature I had read since moving to Edinburgh. This year I’ll continue the tradition in grand style because I have actually read – and enjoyed – a fair bit of Scottish literature in the past year.
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole. Ok, I’ve let a few great books like this one slip in because they are set in Scotland, though not necessarily by a Scot. Brockmole wrote this book while visiting Scotland from her native America. And besides, there is nothing more Scottish than the Isle of Skye.
The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan. Fagan’s use of language in this novel is exquisite. She fills the dialogues with a beautiful mixture of Scots and English that highlights the (many) differences in the two languages. I cannae recommend this book highly enough.
Closed Doors by Lisa O’Donnell. Like The Panopticon, O’Donnell gives us a slice of Scottish life that you will not find in the books of Alexander McCall Smith. Set on a small island off the coast of Scotland, O’Donnell looks at small town life and family through the lens of a young boy. This book might not be as well known as her The Death of Bees, which i still haven’t read, but it does showcase he writing abilities.
Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan. Again another book written by an American, but a more Scottish subject you’d be hard pressed to find. Horan recounts the life of that venerable man of letters, Robert Louis Stevenson. Although he traveled the world quite extensively his language and sensibilities remain thoroughly Scottish throughout his life.
The Missing Shade of Blue by Jennie Erdal. I read this book quite recently and have not yet had time to post a review. It is about a French translator who has come to Edinburgh to work on a translation of David Hume, one of Scotland’s famous philosophers.
Have you read any Scottish literature lately? What are your favorites?
Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
Under the Wide and Starry Sky is the latest novel brought to us by Nancy Horan of Loving Frank fame. As with Loving Frank (about Frank Lloyd Wright), Horan has chosen another real-life topic to explore in her latest novel. This time it is the Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, or I suppose more properly the life of his wife Fanny.
There was so much I learned in this novel about Robert Louis Stevenson. As a new immigrant to Edinburgh, I knew that he grew up here and was sickly as a child. Beyond that, aside from his major works, I knew nothing about him. He truly had an astonishing life in which battles with illness played an important role. With Fanny, he moved all over the planet seeking health – France, Switzerland, upstate New York, California, Australia and finally Samoa. I know! Samoa? And remember this was all at the end of the 19th century when travel was not as easy as it is now.
In spite of all this travel and action, I did not terribly enjoy Under the Wide and Starry Sky. The writing was superb. That is one thing we can say about Nancy Horan. But for me the main thing that separated this book from Loving Frank was the topic and the time period. Whereas I was really interested in learning more about the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the turn of the century time period, I have never had an interest in RLS. I know that should have been a tip off that perhaps the book wasn’t for me, but as I say Horan is an astounding writer. And I am trying to learn more about Scottish culture and history.
Who would like this book? Really, this book is more about Fanny than Robert Louis Stevenson. As such it follows in a long line of books recounting the life of a steadfast wife supporting her artistic husband, specifically, The Paris Wife and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. I like both of those books more than this one simply because of the characters portrayed and the time period. If you are interested in RLS, Scottish literature or the time period, then Under the Wide and Starry Sky is a great book for you. It is full of great writing, fantastic tales and adventuresome journeys.
Have you read this book? What did you think? Send me a link to your review and I will include it here.
I received a copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Edinburgh Book Festival Update
I may not get to see as much at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year as I would like, but what I’ve bought tickets for so far I’m pretty excited about. So far I’m seeing some big stars, some who are new on the scene and some old favorites. Here’s the list:
Salman Rushdie – I have never seen Rushdie speak before. I am quite excited about this. Unfortunately he will be speaking about one of his earlier novels, Shame, which is not a favorite of mine, but perhaps that is better then him treading over the much trod ground of Midnight’s Children or The Satanic Verses.
Peggy Riley and Jenn Ashworth – I chose this one because I really enjoyed Amity and Sorrow by Riley. I like to hear what new writers have to say. Jenn Ashworth has also written a novel along religious themes called The Friday Gospels. It is supposed to be a tragic and hilarious take on Mormonism.
Meg Wolitzer – Oddly, I have never read anything by her, but I am dying to read The Interestings, her latest novel.
Margaret Atwood – I could hardly be Canadian if I didn’t go see her, right? She is one of the guest selectors at the Edbookfest this year. She is giving three talks highlighting why there is no such thing as genre and why breaking literary rules is so great. The talk I am seeing is on her new book Madd Addam.
Gill Hornby and Deborah Moggach – This talk is officially entitled “50 Shades of Funny”, so how could I not go. Horby has just written a novel called The Hive, which I am really keen on reading. Moggach has a number of novels under her belt and is known for her wit.
That is all I have booked for now. My husband may be away during the festival period, which means I can’t really book any evening events until I know for sure.
Robbie Burns Night Special: Scottish Literature
It is with a wee bit of trepidation that I sit down to write this post. When it comes to Scottish literature I am woefully under read. I can name to big names like Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin, but beyond that I have not read a whole lot.
Upon arriving in Edinburgh I read a lot of Alexander McCall Smith and specifically his Isabel Dalhousie Series. The reason I read so much of Isabel’s adventures is because she lives about a mile from where I live and she walks everywhere. I could follow her adventures in Edinburgh as I got to the know the city. She walks through the Meadows on her way into town, as do I. She shops at Henri’s in Morningside for fancy delicatessen stuff, so do I. Her preferred stop for a quick bite and a cuppa in town is Valvona & Crolla, ok … I haven’t been there yet. However, after a few books read in quick succession I found the stories to be a little tiresome. This may be a product of my serial reading of them. Perhaps if my reading of them had been spaced out a little more leisurely that would not have been the case.
On to Glasgow. Gillespie and I by Jane Harris is set in Glasgow at the time of the 1888 International Exhibition. The story follows Harriet Baxter, a spinster and her involvement with Ned Gillespie a famous artist and his family. The story takes a rather dark and unexpected turn as Harriet’s interest in Gillespie turns to obsession. I’ve always been interested in the big International Exhibitions of the Victorian Age and Gillespie and I is saturated in Glasgow’s Exhibition. One of my favorite parts of the book was the map of the exhibition on the fore leaf. Overall Gillespie and I was a very engaging book and was nominated for 2013 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
To take us a little further afield is Ever Fallen in Love by Zoe Strachan. Set largely in an unnamed university town that bears a striking resemblance to St Andrews and a small upper Highlands village, the story follows Richard as he reflects back on his heady university days. His walk down memory lane is spurred on by the unexpected arrival of his little sister, her friend and their ‘drama’ at his remote cabin. At its heart, Ever Fallen in Love is about unrequited and perhaps inappropriate love and the crazy things it can make one do. It paints a wonderful picture of the Scottish university environment in the late 1980s and is a must read for anyone heading to Orkneys off the coast of northern Scotland. Strachan renders the sense of place, on both instances, beautifully.
Finally a tribute to Robbie Burns would not be complete without something that is actually written (or translated into) the Scots language. For that I have chosen The Gruffalo (in Scots) by Julia Donaldson and translated by James Robertson. Same great story rendered almost completely incomprehensible.
A moose took a dauner through the deep mirk widd. A tod saw the moose and the moose looked guid.
Still to be read is The Missing Shade of Blue by Jennie Erdal. It has been out in the UK for about a year, but will be released in Canada this summer.