Parallels, Echoes and Progression

I’ve just finished reading A Scots Quair. It’s taken me about 35 years, from the time I read Sunset Song at school till, inspired by a talk at the Colinton Lit last autumn, Dee made me a present of the volume edited by our speaker, Ian Campbell. This time I reread Sunset Song and continued through Cloud Howe and Grey Granite. Professor Campbell was, of course, right. Cloud Howe and Grey Granite are not lesser works than Sunset Song, but they are progressively darker. It’s the move from rural village small-holding through the pusillanimity of the town to industrial unrest and economic depression in the city, from pastoral idyll through civic tensions to social disintegration, that makes the later works a more difficult read. But the parallels, echoes and progressions between the three works make it clear that these are not separate books, they are three integral and inter-related parts of the same whole.

The nurse who was with me in the recovery room following my small diagnostic procedure last week cleverly got me to come round talking about books. Through the fug of the anaesthetic wearing off I have a vague memory of talking to her about my current reading material. She went off with a wee note in her pocket of two works as recommended by my befuddled brain – Grassic Gibbon’s A Scots Quair and Neil M Gunn’s The Silver Darlings.

I thought The Silver Darlings was one of the most enthralling books I have ever read. There were passages where I couldn’t put it down. All human life is there – birth and death, love and war, disease and hunger, graft and greed, violence and tenderness, poverty and enrichment, home and hearth, discovery and adventure, church, superstition and gritty realism. Neither of these books could be described as light reading, in any sense. But they leave you with a feeling for the land and the sea, an understanding of good and ill, parallels and progression, echoing voices through time and space.

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