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.

isabel-dalhousieUpon 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.

gillespie and iOn 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.

gruffalo-in-scotsFinally 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.