Tag Archives: Scottish writers

#BookReview ‘The Ninth Child’ by Sally Magnusson @sallymag1 #books

The Ninth Child by Sally Magnusson is a Scottish historical mystery featuring a doctor’s wife, Queen Victoria, an infrastructure project to bring clean water to Glasgow from the wild and beautiful lochs, and the sithichean (fairies). Sally Magnusson

It is a story of water and the fate of two different women, both expecting their ninth child, and their husbands; one who is ignorant until the end, the other who looks the threat in the eye and shivers. The pregnant women, who have never met, are the Queen and Isabel, wife of Dr Alexander Aird, physician to the water construction project. The Airds live on the remote and basic construction site in a stone cottage called Fairy Knoll, alongside the drilling and tunnelling of the water project. There are two stories here – a historical saga about health and living conditions for the families which struggle both in Glasgow tenements and of the navvies that work on the water project; and a mystical story of a preacher stolen by the fairies in 1692 who returns 167 years later to talk and walk with Isabel Aird. His purpose is not clear but he is egged on by a fairy voice with whom he has made an unearthly deal. The link with Queen Victoria is tenuous and, after a strong introduction, this strand goes silent for a long time.

The tale is told by the Aird’s neighbour and servant Kirsty McEchern, alternating with Robert Kirke the preacher and, briefly, Prince Albert. At times the transition between viewpoints is sudden and confusing and I admit to skipping over some of the Robert Kirke passages. Sometimes his dialect merged into a following section by Kirsty and this took me away from the story. But I did like the character of Isabel Aird and the portrayal of her journey through the grief for her eight miscarriages. Inspired by contemporary women such as Florence Nightingale and Anne Lister, Isabel fights against her husband’s expectations that she pursue a gentlewoman’s traditional life. The juxtaposition of the Queen, Isabel and Kirsty demonstrates that women, whatever their class and education, face many of the same trials in life and have the similar mental and physical fortitude when called upon.

Magnusson is a confident writer in this period and I believed in the construction site she describes near Loch Chon and Loch Katrine. Many characters and incidents are based on real people and events including many places in the Trossachs national park which to this day bear fairy names. The Queen Victoria strand promised much but was under-used. I wished the story had more pace and for this reason the first three-quarters of the book was a 3* for me, rising to 4* for the last quarter which races along. A special mention goes to the glorious purple thistle cover.

If you like this, try:-
The Good People’ by Hannah Kent
‘The Threshold’ by Anna Kovacevic
‘The Crows of Beara’ by Julie Christine Johnson

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE NINTH CHILD by @sallymag1 #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4sR via @SandraDanby

Book review: Gone are the Leaves

Gone are the Leaves by Anne Donovan 22-4-14I had a shaky start with this book. It is written in Scottish dialect which I could simply not ‘hear’ in my head. The thought of reading a whole book in this language was intimidating so when I got to the first, short section in the voice of the music master I welcomed it with relief. I kept having to stop and re-read a sentence, to work out what it said. I persevered, and the voice slowly started to settle in my ear. I’m glad I didn’t give up but I’m not convinced about the wisdom of writing 80% of the book in dialect. I fear a lot of readers will be lost along the way.

A young French boy meets a young Scottish girl. Deirdre is a seamstress at a laird’s house in Scotland. “My father was neither owermuckle nor poor, and we were all in the service of our Laird and His Lady one way or anither, our lives thirled to theirs.” She is destined to use her skills in the convent embroidering church vestments. Feilamort is an orphan who can sing like an angel. Both must make difficult decisions about their futures. She is 13, with growing limbs which seem too big for her body; he doesn’t know his age or his beginnings.

Part I is set in Scotland, a Scotland dead and drab according to the Laird’s Lady and Signor Carlo, the Italian music master. Deirdre on the other hand celebrates the countryside, seeing beyond the dullness to the beauty and recognising the signs of life in death. She sees a fallen tree, the wood torn and splintered. “Yet its branches had put out shoots which were growing in the sun; some tiny, others starting tae open. The buds on other trees were pink and green but these were greeny-grey, like sage leaves, ghostly and unhealthy looking, drab and straggly as if unlike tae live, but living. By some miracle, a deid tree deprived of roots and water, had put forth shoots and, in its dying breath, desired tae pour out life.”

[photo: edbookfest.co.uk]

[photo: edbookfest.co.uk]

Deirdre’s mother considers the options for her daughter, the nunnery or marriage to a local lad. “Some [folk] need tae be close by others all the time; they intertwine like the ivy, grow where they touch. And some, like the clow that grows on the rocks above the sea, need space, they maun be in the open and feel the wind and rain and sun on them. And that is like you, Deirdre.”

Nature is at the heart of this novel. Action is not in the nature of Father Anthony, the priest who is such a significant influence on the lives of both children. “He was a craft designed for a gently flowing river on a delightful summer’s day, “ writes Donovan [above], “lacking the strength and stamina for storm-tossed waters.”

The plot has some twists and turns along the way, and the weather is used to symbolise Deirdre’s churning emotions. “Frae where we stood I couldna see the watter only hear the clash and scud of the waves, imagine the sweel and sway of it. The lighting was above us noo, shooting lang witchy fingers of siller across the sky, a gowtsie sky, the green of a sick plant, violet-edged.”

This book rewards patient reading, so choose the right time to read it.
‘Gone are the Leaves’ by Anne Donovan [published May 1 by Canongate Books]