A new Ron Butlin novel is always eagerly awaited, so his latest, Billionaires’ Banquet, is most welcome. Described on the cover as “An immorality tale for the 21st century”, it sees Edinburgh’s ex-Makar at his most playful and devilish, looking once more at human nature and finding it fatally flawed, but not without hope. You just have to look hard to find it.
For those whose reading habits include philosophy as well as literature this novel is a joy from start to finish as Butlin name checks, among others, Seneca, Plato, Kant, Hume, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell. His central character is also called Hume, a philosophy student who uses what he learns to make points and win arguments. Those named provide aphorisms to help him through his early life, but this is not a modern take on Sophie’s World; quite the opposite as no lessons are learned despite Hume’s education, or if they are they’re soon forgotten. Continue reading
It seemed apt to be reading Kevin MacNeil’s novel The Brilliant & Forever the week of the announcement of this year’s Man Booker Prize. The hoopla and hurrah that surrounds such awards was felt more keenly than usual due to Glasgow writer Graeme Macrae Burnet’s being shortlisted for the novel His Bloody Project, published by Scottish independent Saraband Books. As with those heady days when Scotland made football World Cup Finals, here was someone to cheer for.
With wall-to-wall media coverage, including prime-time TV shows detailing the runners and riders as well as the result, it can be argued that the importance of winning, or being listed, while understandable is out of proportion. The danger is that an award itself becomes more important than the books and the writing. But while the importance of the Man Booker, and others of its ilk, may appear to be increasing year on year it’s nothing when compared to the high-stakes involved with ‘The Brilliant & Forever’.
Tellingly set on an island, a place where “everyone – human and alpaca alike – wants to be a writer”, the novel’s title refers to a yearly literary event and competition “where reputations are made and writers unmade”. The stakes are high, and those nominated have to compete for a panel of judges, as well as the all-important ‘People’s Decision’. The whole population attends, and bets are placed on who wins, and who may lose. Continue reading
In 2013, Scots Whay Hae! and the Association Of Scottish Literary Studies collaborated in a series of recordings to commemorate Robert Louis Stevenson Day. Writers Alan Bissett, James Robertson and Louise Welsh read a Stevenson short story each; ‘Thrawn Janet’, The Tale Of Tod Lapraik’ and ‘The Bottle Imp’ respectively. ‘The Bottle Imp’ was already a favourite for Welsh, but reading it aloud must have bonded her more closely with the malevolent sprite as it appears she couldn’t leave it alone for long. She had to return to it at least one more time.
The result, in collaboration with composer Stuart Macrae, is Scottish Opera’s co-production with The Music Theatre of Wales, The Devil Inside, a dark, unsettling and unexpectedly moving production, which opened in Glasgow’s Theatre Royal this week. It is mesmerizing from start to end as words, music, performance and setting all work together to present this deceptively simple tale in such a manner so that the unfolding horror is heightened rather than unnecessarily distracted from.