Alan Spence - The Magic Flute (1990)
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
For over 25 years, Alan Spence's uncanny talent for cosmically transforming the seemingly everyday in city life has been showcased in poetry, drama, short stories and novels. In just three deceptively simple lines in the poem 'ah', Spence perfectly communicates the wonder of watching the stars come out one by one. Meanwhile, his Macallan Prize-winning short story 'Nessun Dorma' exemplifies the Glasgow-born writer's knack for exquisitely juggling manifold themes within a restricted word count, from love and loneliness right through to national identity.
Of his longer fiction, The Magic Flute is the most compelling example of Spence's abiding preoccupation with the ways in which characters can be suddenly shocked from their everyday complacency by the realisation that there is something out there (whether that be political, spiritual, cultural) that is way bigger than themselves. The novel tracks the lives of four young Protestant boys growing up in Glasgow during the 1960s and 70s, their warm friendship contrasted with the sectarian bigotry in which they are innocently complicit, enthusiastically marching and playing with the Orange Parade. Of course, Glasgow is a-changing, both physically and culturally, and the four boys who embark on adulthood armed with some big questions are to find their answers in vastly different places. Tam, for instance, breaks for freedom by wholeheartedly embracing the counter culture, New Age spirituality and psychedelic drugs, while Eddie winds up serving in the British army in the north of Ireland.
Throughout, Spence ingeniously interweaves the boys' divergent lives and the events that shape them. Yet despite the period setting, The Magic Flute is no nostalgia trip. Typically, the world of Spence's novel is depicted with clear-eyed, unsentimental honesty in the author's characteristic plain, beautiful language.
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