Compton Mackenzie - Whisky Galore (1947)
- Anna Millar
- 1 January 2005
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
Compton Mackenzie's timeless text is a triumph. Inspired by the real events of 1941, when a cargo ship ran aground in the channel between Eriskay and South Uist, Whisky Galore is the gentle, comical story of how the booty on board became appropriated by a group of Scottish islanders. As the best known of Mackenzie's work, the novel formed the basis for the 1949 Ealing comedy, directed by Alexander Mackendrick.
An innovative text of its time, the book cleverly imagines the dramatic intrusion of the modern world into a small rural Highland community. While the whisky represents the forces of the state and the big business at its core, Mackenzie's wily locals depict with charm and imagination, an image far removed from that of the backward, insular Scot. Considering Mackenzie's multifarious background, there's little surprise that such an idea of identity fascinated him.
Born in the late 1800s, Mackenzie studied law but abandoned this career to concentrate on his first play, The Gentleman in Grey, and a series of novels. After serving in World War I, he was recruited by MI6, and became director of the Aegean Intelligence Service in Syria. He moved to Scotland in 1928, settling in Barra, the background for this, his most famous comic tale of Scottish life. In 1932, he published the controversial Greek Memories, an account of his experiences in the secret services. Before Mackenzie died in 1972, he was calling Edinburgh home, was knighted, founded and edited The Gramophone magazine and was president of the Siamese Cat Club. Now there's a CV to raise a wee dram to.
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