On the surface, The Illuminations, the fifth novel by Scottish author Andrew O’Hagan, appears to be a simple story about Captain Luke Campbell, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, and his grandmother, Anne Quirk, with whom he has always been particularly close. Luke has returned from the fighting with issues which prevent him from becoming close to those around him, perhaps reflecting some aspects of PTSD. His beloved grandmother Anne, now eighty-two, is staying at a co-operative living facility on the west coast of Scotland, where the other residents and a caring staff are trying to keep her from harm as her developing dementia begins to become dangerous. A former art photographer, whose work has recently interested a group which hopes to present a retrospective showing, Anne spent time in Canada, New York, Glasgow, and eventually Blackpool, before she mysteriously stopped doing any photography in 1963 when she was in her early thirties. Luke, whose mother Alice’s issues have always prevented her from becoming personally connected with her son, has come to Scotland after the war to try to help Anne. Packed full of thoughtful imagery, well-developed characterizations, subtle changes which reveal the longings of the heart, and actions which each character hopes will inspire new beginnings, The Illuminations lives up to its title.
Category Archive for 'Scotland'
You have to give Jack Laidlaw credit. He does see himself as others see him, and his life definitely does lack continuity. In this third novel of William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw trilogy, published in 1991, after Laidlaw (1977) and The Papers of Tony Veitch (1983), the main character, a detective with the Glasgow police, is divorced, alienated from his teenage children, at a crisis in his relationship with a new woman, and addicted to the possibilities of escape through alcohol. Now he has learned that his troubled younger brother Scott, a teacher, has died in a pedestrian accident, his life “snuffed out on the random number plate of a car,” and Laidlaw is about ready to “shut up shop on [his] beliefs and hand in [his] sense of morality at the desk. The world was a bingo stall,” a conclusion which depresses him beyond words. He is convinced that Scott’s death must mean more than it seems to mean, and he feels an inexplicable sense of guilt. Requesting a week’s time off from the job, he decides to investigate Scott’s death in an effort to learn how it happened and if it was truly random. Despite the large number of characters and the complex interrelationships among them, the novel provides a perfect ending, tying up the details of the themes and the action at the same time that it suggests a memorable coda: “And the meek shall inherit the earth, but not this week.” Outstanding and memorable, a classic.
In the second of the three Laidlaw novels, written between 1977 and 1992, author William McIlvanney, considered the “father of Tartan noir,” continues a series that is so masterfully written that calling his novels “noir mysteries” underestimates their universal literary power for the reader. Though few American readers know of these now-classic novels, Europa Editions has decided to change that by reprinting all of them, and anyone who has ever enjoyed a noir novel or who loves mysteries is in for a rare treat. McIlvanney’s ability to describe, to connect even the homeliest and most ordinary details to the grand themes of literature, to create unique characters who linger in the memory, and to make his plots come alive, often with humor, is rare, if not unparalleled. Laidlaw, an iconoclastic police investigator is involved in trying to solve three murders that connect many different levels of Scottish society.
In this classic novel from 1977, Scottish author/poet William McIlvanney pulls out all the literary stops, creating a novel so filled with ideas, unique descriptions, and unusual characters that labeling it as one of the great crime novels does it a disservice. It is also a literary novel of stunning originality, so unusual for its time that it is now labeled as the first of the “Tartan noir” novels, with McIlvanney himself described as the “Scottish Camus.”* Two sequels – The Papers of Tony Veitch (1983), a Silver Dagger Award winner, and Strange Loyalties (1991), a winner of the Scottish Art Council Award – complete the story of Laidlaw. Despite his success and his prizes, however, McIlvanney’s “Tartan noir career” ended after these three novels, with the author concentrating instead on his poetry, literary fiction, screenplays, journalism, and essays – and winning prizes for his work in all of these genres. Inexplicably, considering the author’s successes and his prizes, all three of the Laidlaw novels have been long out of print – until this year – when Europa Editions in the US and Canongate Books in the UK decided to republish Laidlaw. The other two books in the Laidlaw series are scheduled for release this fall. This one is a true classic for anyone who wonders just how good a crime novel can be as Laidlaw holds to his own truths and refuses to succumb to the easy black and white view of the world so common to this genre.
Helen, a young croupier on the night shift at a London casino, is traveling home during the wee hours in a taxi shared with two co-workers. When they stop at a traffic light, two men, obviously homeless and perhaps drunk, arrogantly step out from the curb just as the the light is about to change and walk slowly, at their own pace, across the street, seeming to dare the stopped cars to move when the light turns green. Wild-looking, scraggy, and rather frightening, one man makes Helen pay attention, though she hunches down in the back of the taxi to avoid being seen. “Brian, it was Brian,” she thinks in astonishment, “her brother Brian,” whom she has not seen for twelve years. Stunned, she silently begins to make excuses for “Brian’s” behavior at the street crossing, applying her memories of Brian’s mild personality to the behavior of the younger of the two strange men on the street. Establishing some of the novel’s main themes in this opening scene, which is more dramatic because of the violence which does not take place, author James Kelman follows Helen from that moment with “Brian” to her arrival at the home she shares with her six-year-old daughter and Mo, a South Asian man who represents “normality” to her. For the next twenty-four hours, Kelman keeps the reader inside Helen’s head as she tries to sort out her life and figure where she may be going.