Iain Crichton Smith - Consider the Lilies (1968)
- Kevin MacNeil
- 1 January 2005
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
Iain Crichton Smith was, and is, lovingly acknowledged as one of modern Scotland’s foremost writers, wits and all-round ‘characters’. Generations of readers have grown up holding close to their hearts (and exam cram sheets) one or other of his terse, lyrical poems. There is, however, a great deal more to his oeuvre than his poetry. Reading Iain Crichton Smith – like the author’s own compulsion to write – is a hungry addiction. And a blessing.
He was an inconsistent writer – too prolific according to some – penning a staggering number of poems, plays, short stories, essays and novels in both English and Gaelic. He was so humble in his lacerating self-criticisms that some of his critics believed him. He wrote his best known novel Consider the Lilies in less than a fortnight; and it is loaded with anachronisms. But who cares that it contains references to postmen, grandfather clocks and footballs when these didn’t exist in the Highlands? As ICS pointed out, Shakespeare himself employed anachronisms and who are we to criticise?
It’s a novel about the inequitable Highland Clearances, a subject so open-wounded it still angers Gaels today. Yet, contrary to its initial publisher’s claims, Consider the Lilies is not an historical novel. It’s a poet’s impassioned meditation on themes of injustice, (anti-)Calvinism, miscommunication and the integral power of frailty. The novel gives us a psychological insight into the mind of an elderly woman suffering a religious crisis. ICS, partly due to his own complex and claustrophobic relationship with his mother, created some of the strongest female characters in modern literature; the old woman is an archetype in his writings, sometimes loving, sometimes ambiguous. The book posits, with absolute subtlety, the need for a compassionate, rather than a dogmatic, understanding of human needs: a message that is surely as important now as it ever was.
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