Ten significant modern Scottish novels
- Brian Donaldson
- 2 November 2012
Featuring Michel Faber, Andrew O’Hagan, AL Kennedy and Anne Donovan
Set in the Highlands, Michel Faber’s full-length fiction debut was a real shock to the system. Isserley is an über-earthly creature with deep scars and thick specs who is on a mission to capture muscle-bound men for creepy experimentation. Read this and you’ll give hitchhiking a permanent thumbs-down. You might never set foot on a farm again either.
The scintillating Glasgow-set debut from Louise Welsh featured an eccentric auctioneer, Rilke, whose uncovering of some erotically violent photographs triggers his own journey of discovery as we lurch from the calm suburbs to a hectic porn industry.
We’ve recently had Skagboys, the prequel to Irvine Welsh’s epochal Trainspotting, but the sequel is arguably the better (and funnier) book, with Renton returning from Amsterdam and avoiding Begbie like the plague, Spud trying to pen a history of Leith and Sick Boy dipping his sordid wick into the nasty world of adult entertainment.
It’s been a fine century so far for Alan Warner, and he opened it with this surreal and inventive fable about a drifter on the trail of his uncle who has made off with the local pub’s World Cup kitty. Cue a series of mind-squelching encounters with people bearing names such as Jaxter, Liam O’Looney, Raincheck and Syrupy Piece.
Shortlisted for both the Orange and Whitbread prizes, Anne Donovan’s lovely debut novel revolves around painter and decorator Jimmy McKenna’s sort-of spiritual awakening (he meets a Buddhist monk in a sandwich bar) and the effect his new karmic outlook has on his wife Liz and their 11-year-old daughter Anne-Marie.
In AL Kennedy’s novel, Hannah Luckcraft is an unfailingly kind human being, worn down by always trying to do the right thing in a world where so much is obviously wrong. Her resolution is to steep herself in booze, have a fling with a dypso dentist and discuss in humorous and poignant fashion the contradictions and complexities of her state of being.
Ali Smith followed up her Booker nomination for Hotel World with another shortlisted tale, this time featuring Astrid, a 12-year-old girl stuck in a holiday home with her brother, mum and stepdad when the mysterious Amber drops by and changes all their lives.
Another evocative exploration of Scottish identity from the brilliant pen of Andrew O’Hagan as he charts the fall from grace of David Anderton, an Ayrshire parish priest accused of sexual assault on a teenage boy. A book about love and friendship, it also tackles Anglophobia, sectarianism and societal breakdown.
Gaelic writer Aonghas Phàdraig Caimbeul channelled the work of Calvino and Borges for this acclaimed series of 21 fables about a mythical Scottish archipelago which offers a passageway to places as diverse as the Forbidden City, Sistine Chapel and Brandenburg Gate.
A sweeping fiction of extraordinary ambition, James Robertson’s fourth novel is an analysis of Scotland from the post-war years to the fevered aftermath of devolution taking in oil, Thatcher and religion, the legacy of war and an uncertain future via the wastelands of a de-industrialised nation.