Chiara Bullen’s September edition of BookSpace reviews some of the latest Scottish literary productions
Autumn brings with it a flurry of activity for the publishing industry, long before we’ll see the first flurry of snow. A big push of the potential best-sellers will grace storefronts, shop windows and online promotions as the Christmas rush (sorry – C word!) well and truly begins. Amongst the digitally-doctored smiling faces adorning the front of celebrity cookbooks, biographies and (evidently) ghost-written novels fighting for your attention and a snug space in a stocking, you’ll find a wonderful variety of books from Scotland that are perfect for the nights that are ‘fair drawing in’.
A Scottish Journey: Personal Impressions of Modern Scotland, James McEnaney
Non-Fiction | Luath | £9.99 | Buy Here
“James McEnaney sought to complete his own Scottish Journey, exploring the communities of Scotland by motorbike. Braving the snow that the Beast from the East hailed upon the country, McEnaney set off from the Scottish Parliament on a 10-day, 1500-mile, two-wheeled journey that would take him around Scotland via Gatehouse of Fleet, Oban, Orkney and Aberdeen, amongst others.”
James McEnaney recreates Edwin Muir’s journey across Scotland in 1934 in the wintery-spring of 2018, documenting his observations, reflections and insights offered by a modern-day Scotland. With events post-Indy Ref and Brexit hanging heavy in the air, McEnaney’s journey and conversations with his hosts across Scotland make for poignant and powerful reading. Stunning descriptions of the Scottish landscape blasted with snow and ice serve as the steely backdrop of this vital conversation and guides the narrative through the social, economic and political discussions inspired by locations throughout the country. Despite laying all of Scotland’s problems bare, McEnaney wraps up his journey with a note of infectious hope for a better future, the turning of the last pages igniting a fire in your belly and a desire for change.
For Every One, Jason Reynolds
Poetry | 404Ink and Knights Of | £5 | Buy Here
“Jason Reynolds wants kids to know that dreams take time. They involve countless struggles. But no matter how many times a dreamer gets beat down, the drive and the passion and the hope never fully extinguish—because just having the dream is the start you need, or you won’t get anywhere anyway, and that is when you have to take a leap of faith.”
Brought to the UK in a collaboration between Scotland’s 404Ink and the innovative Knights Of, For Every One is the kind of book that immediately thrusts itself into your heart, settles down snugly and refuses to budge as you reflect on lines and lyrics days after reading. An essential, bite-sized read for literally everyone (I do appreciate a literal title) and anyone who has ever had a spark of ambition, a feeling of hope or a dream for their future. These pages of wonder lovingly let you know that, despite living in a time where gaining achievements and success feels like a race against the rest of your peers, it is not over until you’ve won — no matter when that is. If you feel like you’re lost from the path you once set yourself on, let Reynolds’ words gently lead you back again.
Resistance, Julián Fuks, Translated by Daniel Hahn
Translated Fiction | Charco Press | £12.99 | Buy Here
“A young couple, involved in the struggle against the military dictatorship in 1970s Argentina, must flee the country. The brutality and terror of the regime is closing in around them. Friends are being ‘disappeared’. Their names are on a list. Time is running out. When they leave, they take with them their infant son, adopted after years of trying for a child without success. They build a new life in Brazil and things change radically. The family grows as the couple have two more children: a son and a daughter.”
An intimate tale of identity delivered by a delicately devastating narrative, Resistance’s portrayal of family ties, grief, chaos and exile during dangerously turbulent times makes for heavy but essential reading. The poetic narrative illustrates the doubts surrounding the sense of self triggered by a backdrop of war and genocide, questioning the concept of nationhood and one’s place within it. Awarded the Jabuti Award for Best Novel of the year in 2016 and scooping the José Saramago Literary Prize in 2017, Fuks presents a masterpiece that will have you questioning the very act of resistance itself, and the small ways resistance plays a role in our everyday lives.
The Way of All Flesh, Ambrose Parry
Historical Crime Fiction | Canongate | £14.99 | Buy Here
“Edinburgh, 1847. City of Medicine, Money, Murder. In the city’s Old Town, a number of young women have been found dead, all having suffered similarly gruesome ends. Across the city in the New Town, medical student Will Raven is about to start his apprenticeship with the brilliant and renowned Dr Simpson. It is here that Raven meets housemaid Sarah Fisher, who recognises trouble when she sees it and takes an immediate dislike to him. Raven and Sarah find themselves propelled headlong into the darkest shadows of Edinburgh’s underworld, where they will have to overcome their differences if they are to make it out alive.”
Ambrose Parry is the pseudonym for Scottish crime-writing duo Chris Brookmyre and his wife, Dr Marisa Haetzman. The first instalment in a proposed series of Victorian-Edinburgh historical thrillers, The Way of All Flesh is a grizzly, gritty depiction of the dual nature of Edinburgh in the 19th century. The fictitious tale weaves effortlessly with historical and prominent Edinburgh figures from this time – such as renowned detective James McLevy and chloroform inventor Dr James Young Simpson. Historical crime-fiction at its finest, the story is enriched by the questioning of social injustices of the time amongst the fast-paced action and compelling contradictions that keep you hooked from turn to turn.
Kerb Stain Boys, Alex Wheatle
Barrington Stoke | Young Adult | £7.99 | Buy Here
”Life on the Crongton estate can be rough for Briggy. Dad’s lost his job, Mum’s working so hard to make ends meet, and big brother Kingsley just wants out. With all of the shouting and arguing it’s difficult not to get lost in the mix. So when his best mate Terror and coolest chick in the year Caldonia, cook up a plan to make a quick buck, Briggy hopes this time it might be his chance to shine. Robbing the Post Office… what could go wrong?”
This wickedly sharp teen-noir novella ticks all the right boxes for an inspiring read for teens who feel trampled in the wake of this unforgiving world. Protagonist Briggy’s plight – torn between his honest intentions and a fierce desire to prove himself to the world that tells him he’ll amount to nothing due to his background — is told in a compelling, voice-driven narrative packed with action and humour from start to finish. This modern, desperate twist on the classic heist plot serves to highlight the harsh realities faced by those struggling to make ends meet in a corner of a city seemingly forgotten by the state. From Barrington Stoke’s ‘Super Readable’ series, the book is edited and formatted in such a way to coax reluctant readers from their shells and make for more accessible reading for children with dyslexia. More information about their ‘Super Readable’ books can be found here.
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