Christopher Rush - A Twelvemonth and a Day (1985)
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
A Twelvemonth and a Day is a love song and lament for the vanished 'slow old tuneful times' of life in the fishing villages in the East Neuk of Fife. Rush was born in St Monans, one of the many fishing communities condemned by factory farming methods. He writes of the crews that sailed the Firth; the net-mending and hull-caulking; the manufacture of creels; the whelk-gathering when the fishing failed; the lobsters of August, the herring of winter; practices that Rush clearly thinks preferable to those of the present, when fishing is only 'an industry, a service, a wage packet that used to be a way of life'.
Such halcyon evocations have a long lineage in Scottish writing; there has always been something: fallen leaders, should-have-won battles to bewail and mourn (Rush's most apparent predecessors are Edwin Muir and George Mackay Brown, both of whom wrote Edenic accounts of their Orkney childhoods). Rush's lyricism and reliance on a degree of alliteration more associated with an oral tradition suggests a similar desire to mythicise. But the prose never stoops to sentiment: the moon is 'a drowned skull'; the classroom 'a varnished coffin'.
The book is also a dirge for a time of life: 'that first conscious corner of belonging cut for me out of time'; a youth spent in the fields and on the shore; deciphering the kirkyard graves; listening to eerie tales of things glimpsed at sea. Rush offers a series of portraits of those loved and gone, an attempt to extricate the 'bright splinters of people still sticking in our hearts'. And if the reader sometimes wonders if it was ever really thus and how much its lyric tone can be trusted, then, as Rush says, 'what mattered was the telling'.
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