Three Scottish books

My love for the Anglophone world is to a great deal based on the fact that I spent a huge amount of my childhood time reading, and that a great proportion of the books I read were translations from English.

Oddly though, not by Scottish authors. As far as I remember, the only book written by a Scot whose translation I read before coming of age was Kidnapped, to be followed by A Scots Quair when I was already in my mid-twenties. (In the meantime I tried Waverley but was only able to finish it at a third attempt several years later.)

Later on I read more from Stevenson and Scott and added to the authors I had read James Hogg, Compton Mackenzie, Robert Burns, Irvine Welsh and Ian Rankin, and after getting online also John Galt, George Douglas Brown and Lisa Storey. Not such a big deal. (At least I gradually began reading the originals.)

So it surprised me when I realized, shortly before moving to Scotland, that among the books I had been reading during the latest two moths in Bohemia, one was a Gaelic anthology, two were Scottish novels and one a Scotsman’s autobiography.

Norman Maclean: The Leper’s Bell: The Autobiography of a Changeling

Maclean’s autobiography was naturally quite interesting for me: memoirs of a booze addict can hardly be uninteresting to another, who constantly finds himself comparing the author’s experience with his own. It’s fascinating how similar to your life some of those things you read about are – and how unsimilar are others. I have to admit though that as a more or less celibate gay I was rather bored by the passages where Maclean describes his (straight, needless to say) sexual exploits. All the same, there are more really good quotations than the three I wrote down:

What was I looking for? Happiness? I knew that rarely lasted. Diversion, maybe – diversion from the ineluctable depressing facts: there is death, disease, impotence and dementia ahead.

I have a certain level of self-awareness, and I am now candid about my chances of ever growing up and behaving in an assertive manner. If there’s an easy way of dealing with a problem, that’s the one I’ll take.

When drinking I always wanted to get to the line without going across, and then, some hours later, I’d look back and see that the line was a mile behind me.

James Kelman: Kieron Smith, boy

I also have to admit that I was unable to even finish Kelman’s book. I could possibly withstand the fact that the main character is totally unlikeable – in fact, I found him in many respects quite similar to myself in that age. I could possibly even withstand the fact that the author paints Glasgow as the most bigoted city in the world, inhabited exlusively by two-figure-IQ folk. But I couldn’t stand the fact that although there were some indications that the anti-hero is growing older during his narrative, his mentality seemed to stagnate at the same point and keep revolving on the same spot. Talk about repetitiveness! (I’ve no idea what Widsith liked about it.)

Iain Banks: The Crow Road

And finally there was Banks. After Kelman I was a bit anxious about this one (the main character’s name Prentice wrongly suggested to me he would be about as old as Kieron Smith), but I did enjoy it – in fact it was one of the books I have read through in the shortest time during the last few years. Banks even managed to avoid letting the relationship between the hero and his female friend slip into that kind of cloying romantic finale by which Charles Dickens spoiled his David Copperfield. Anyway, let me finish by the quotation I wrote down from Banks:

People can be teachers and idiots; they can be philosophers and idiots; they can be politicians and idiots . . . in fact I think they have to be . . . a genius can be an idiot. The world is largely run for and by idiots; it is no great handicap in life and in certain areas is actually a distinct advantage and even a prerequisite for advancement.

(First published on Blogger in November or December ’11.)



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