Archie Hind - The Dear Green Place (1966)
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
There are two kinds of books in this list: great fiction by people who happen to come from Scotland, and great fiction influenced by and composed with Scotland in mind. The Dear Green Place is perhaps the best example of the latter. From renditions of ‘The Mist Covered Mountains’ on the bagpipes, to the poetic refrain about the Glasgow coat-of-arms, to the unmistakable descriptions of its streets, rivers and buildings, the sense of place and time couldn’t be stronger.
Set in the Southside of Glasgow of the 1960s, this is one of the few novels about writers and writing that actually contributes something fresh and different where most are simply self-indulgent. Mat Craig is from proud working-class stock, born into a large family who consider putting pen to paper as something shameful that should be suppressed. The narrative swings between sections where Mat temporarily shelves his dreams to work with his brother in a slaughterhouse, and moments when he abandons employment in the name of literature: something he’s not absolutely certain he believes in, or is any good at. Hind deals beautifully with questions of art over real life, juxtaposing the pull of creativity with Mat’s inability to pay the bills, even succeeding in making the slitting, slashing and chopping of animals in the killing rooms seem romantic with his restrained tone.
The tragedy is not just in Mat’s story, but also in that of the author. Hind too struggled with the ability and opportunity to write, and sadly never completed another book after this, his debut, was published in 1966. However, the contribution to Scottish life Mat struggles so hard for has been achieved by its creator in this impressive book which still stands as profound comment nearly 40 years on. And that’s something to be proud of.
View the complete list of the 100 Best Scottish Books.