Andrew Greig - Electric Brae (1997)
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
Throughout the 1990s, when the majority of the emerging Scottish novelists seemed fixated with gritty urban realism, a handful of authors were taking their inspiration from the dramatic landscape of the country's remoter climes. Notable among these was Andrew Greig, the Bannockburn-born poet, novelist and mountaineer, whose brilliant evocation of settings ranging from the Battle of Britain to colonial Penang across five novels has consistently matched his unnerving insight and compassion. Greig's debut novel Electric Brae is the most powerful evidence of the author's talent for conveying the intricacies of human relationships against a vividly realised physical and political backdrop. The author himself described the book as 'a modern romance without heather or hardmen'.
Greig's protagonist is Jimmy Renilson, an engineer aboard a North Sea oil rig, who divides his time between his affair with temperamental artist Kim Russell and rock climbing (the latter, a passion he shares with the book's author). Greig's extraordinarily dense and fast-paced narrative moves between Jimmy's stormy relationship with Kim and the predicaments among their wider circle of friends such as Jimmy's climbing friend Graeme and his bisexual partner Lesley. Despite somewhat bleak subject matter, Greig's no-holds-barred depiction of the near impossibility of intimacy between men and women is balanced by the sensitivity he extends to his characters.
The action expands to take in the effects of Thatcher's compassionless conservatism on the Scottish nation, also strongly evoked, while the mountaineering sequences are elegantly, energetically conveyed. Electric Brae features the density, scope and page-turning intensity of a true modern epic and there are surely few contemporary novelists who can explore the big themes of love, death and loss in language that is so spare and beautiful.
View the complete list of the 100 Best Scottish Books.