Category: Scotland Page 1 of 3

Rachael McGill: Fair Trade Heroin

The latest addition to my website is Rachael McGill‘s Fair Trade Heroin. Gwen is an aid worker in Afghanistan in the 1990s, just as the Taliban are taking over. While other aid agencies are moving out, Gwen wants to help the people of a village and, in particular, the women, by offering them alternative employment to the opium poppy trade. As the Taliban move in and she tries to set up a handicrafts school and then a way for them to sell their opium by cutting the middlemen, i.e. the drug warlords. Things do not go well when the Taliban march in and Gwen is dragged out of the country and to safety by Roshan, who works for her aid agency, but not before a quick fling with Syed, one of the drug dealers. Back in the UK, sixteen years later, Nadia, the result of her fling, is now fifteen and mother and daughter clash. When Gwen, working for a charity that helps immigrants, learns that Roshan is in the UK (illegally) and is involved in a drug deal gone wrong, inadvertently witnessed by Nadia, can she help?

Ali Smith: Companion Piece

The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Companion Piece. As the title implies, this is an appendage to her brilliant Seasons tetralogy and is somewhat similar, in that we follow current events, with Smith criticising what is happening in the UK. However, we also follow the story of Sandy Gray, a not very commercially successful artist (she paints poems) and her relationship with Martina Pelf, with whom she was at university. Martina phones Sandy (after thirty years of no contact) because of something strange that happened to her while she was detained at Heathrow airport. Sandy, who is in covid lockdown and struggling with her aged and ill father, gets caught up with Martina and her family. At the same time we learn of a seventeenth century young woman and her struggles and her tangential link to Martina’s story. Above all this novel is about women telling stories, about the horrors of modern Britain, about the ill-treatment of women, about language and about how life is not always as straightforward as it seems. It confirms Smith as one of the foremost British writers of this century.

Isabel Bogdan: Der Pfau (The Peacock)

The latest addition to my website is Isabel Bogdan‘s Der Pfau (The Peacock). This novel gives the impression of being written by a Scottish or English writer, being set entirely in the Highlands of Scotland and featuring primarily Scottish and English characters. Lord and Lady McIntosh rent out holiday cottages on their estate and are planning, for the first time, to rent out the West Wing to a group of bankers (with their own cook and psychologist) who are coming for a team-building exercise. They are worried about their peacock which attacks anything blue and has attacked the car of a guest, causing damage. When the laird sees that the banker boss’s car has been attacked, he shoots the peacock and conceals it under leaves. However, the bankers’ boss’s dog discovers it and the boss thinks her dog has killed it. She instructs one of her staff to get rid of it. The cook volunteers to cook it, pretending it is pheasant and then, later a goose. She finds gunshot in it so now everybody has different ideas on the fate of the peacock. Throw in the bankers’ not entirely successful team-building exercise and a snowstorm and things get messy. It is a very enjoyable book but also a serious discussion of how we can have different perceptions of the same event.

Ali Smith: Summer

The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Summer. This is the final novel in Ali Smith’s Four Seasons tetralogy and is bang up to date with not only references to Brexit but to the Boris Johnson administration, coronavirus, lockdown and the wearing of masks and also George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. We follow several stories, starting with Grace, a former actress who is bringing up two children, an environmentally-conscious sixteen year old girl and a malicious Dominic Cummings-inspired thirteen year old boy. Her ex lives next door with his girlfriend. We follow these and several other stories as Smith looks at the bad (Brexit, coronavirus, detention of immigrants, the breakdown of language, the failure of relationships and environmental irresponsibility) and the good (art, nature, environmental responsibility, community spirit and successful relationships) This is the conclusion of what must be the finest British set of novels of the 21st century.

Ali Smith: Spring

The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Spring. This is another superb novel from Smith in her four-seasons tetralogy. The key theme in this book is the harsh treatment meted out to refugees in the UK but there is much, more more to the novel. We follow two stories. Richard Lease is a TV director. He has not worked for a while and is asked to direct a sexed-up version of a novel which tells of Katherine Mansfield and Rainer Maria Rilke who apparently stayed in the same remote Swiss hotel at around the same time in 1922 but probably never met. Meanwhile his great friend and normal scriptwriter, Paddy Neal is dying and does die. He can take no more and heads off to Scotland, getting off at Kingussie. Also heading for Kingussie are Britt and Florence. Britt works for a security company in an Immigration Removal Centre, while Florence is a strange twelve-year old girl, who managed to get changes made at the Centre and has an unusual effect on most people she meets. Smith raises many themes, from grief to clouds, from women artists to Brexit, from dumbing down to the UK government austerity programme, all leading to another first-class work.

A L Kennedy: The Little Snake

The latest addition to my website is A L Kennedy‘s The Little Snake, a children’s fable for adults, in the style of Le petit prince (The Little Prince). The eponymous little snake is both the Angel of Death (at least where nasty cruel rich and powerful people are concerned) and a friend to the very good, such as our heroine Mary, whom we and the snake first meet as a young girl. Mary lives in a divided city, with the very rich and very poor. During the course of the book, things get worse, but the snake, when not killing the rich and powerful, helps Mary and her family, who eventually have to leave the city, with conditions having deteriorated so much. It is an amusing fable and a good read for both children and adults, not mawkish or trite and not averse to making its political point.

Ali Smith: Winter

The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Winter. This is the second novel in her seasonal tetralogy. It tells the story of a dysfunctional family. The oldest sister, Iris, has strong left-wing views and is thrown out of the house by her father. Sophia, her younger sister, behaves and is responsible and goes on to become a successful businesswoman. She has a son, Arthur (Art) from a casual affair. Neither sister married and both are now old and not speaking to one another. Having broken off with his girlfriend, Charlotte, Arthur now turns up for Christmas at his mother’s huge house in Cornwall (where she lives alone) accompanied by a substitute, hired Charlotte, in the form of Lux. Iris is summoned as Sophia seem to be not eating and is accompanied by a strange, disembodied head and the four spend Christmas together where the past is aired, relationships discussed and challenged and topics such as Brexit, refugees, environmental politics and Greenham Common the subject of conversation. Smith makes her point about her issues but also about working together for the common good, something she feels that we do not do well either as a country or individuals.

Ali Smith: Autumn

The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Autumn. This is the first in Ali Smith’s four Seasons series of novels and, apparently, the first post-Brexit novel. It tells the story of Elisabeth Demand who, when a young child, lives next door to Daniel Gluck, a man sixty-nine years older than her, who becomes her unofficial babysitter. They share stories and she admires his taste in music and in art. Indeed, when she comes to study art as an adult, it is Pauline Boty, the relatively little known only female British Pop Art painter she writes her thesis on, despite her male tutor looking down on Boty. In later life, when she is thirty-two, Elisabeth visits Daniel, now 101, in the care home, apparently his only visitor. Feminism, time and the shortness of time left and Brexit and its generally negative effects are the key themes of the work. I found it somewhat bitty but still a worthwhile novel.

Ali Smith: How to Be Both

The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s How to Be Both. This book tells two stories and, when it was originally published, half were printed with one first and the other half with the other one first. The first one (that I read) concerned the Italian painter Francesco del Cossa, known for his frescoes in Ferrara. The second story concerns George, a sixteen-year old English girl, whose mother suddenly died recently. Cross-dressing, gender fluidity and bisexuality are the both of the title though they do not figure prominently. The two are connected as, before her death, Carol George’s mother, takes George and her brother to Ferrara to see the frescoes. Carol is also an Internet rebel (Google bombing) and highly critical of certain politicians and, as a result, may or may not be under surveillance. I found the novel somewhat rambling but the George story was certainly more interesting than the Ferrara one.

Ali Smith: There But For The

The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s There But For The. This is another original novel from Ali Smith, telling the tale of Miles Garth, who is invited to a posh dinner party in Greenwich (London) and subsequently locks himself in the spare bedroom, refusing to come out or to talk to anyone about it. We follow the stories of four people who had tangential connections to him but no-one seems to know him well. We also follow the publicity his actions generate and how people cash on his temporary celebrity. Hovering around it all is Brooke, a ten year old neighbour who tells terrible jokes, learns facts from the Internet and seems to be more of a voice of reason than any of the adults. It is clever, witty (and satirical) and most original.

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