You may have had your fill of ‘Books Of The Year’ lists, but we like to think that Scots Whay Hae!’s selection is small, beautifully formed, and well worthy of your attention.
These are the books which stood out against stiff competition in 2017. The list could easily have been longer but we like to stick to a traditional Top Ten. Consisting of five novels, two short story collections, a musical/historical biography, a collection of journalism, and a peerless book of essays, they take you to Memphis, Airdrie, Springboig and the Alsace, with detours to Firhill, London during the Blitz, New Mexico and Millport along the way. Taken as a whole they are a testament to the breadth of artistic and cultural imagination at large in Scotland today. Need further convincing? Here’s what we thought at the time:
David Keenan – This Is Memorial Device
This Is Memorial Device is spot on in terms of time and place, but it’s so much more than that. It’s rare for a writer to capture both in a manner which avoids nostalgia and feels relevant, but Keenan manages to do so. This is a novel which is about what it means to be young, about the hows and whys – the when and where is less relevant. It’s about youth. Real youth, not the sort of arrested development that is all too common these days. I’ve read it twice and will do so again before too long. At the age of 46 it’s had a palpable effect on me. If I had read it when I was 15, (as happened with The Busconductor Hines and The Wasp Factory), there’s every chance it would have changed my life. That’s your definition of a cult novel right there.
You can hear David Keenan talking about This Is Memorial Device on the SWH! podcast. Continue reading
Running two narratives throughout a novel can be risky. They have to be distinct and equally engaging or readers will rush through one to get back to their prefered story. It’s a delicate balancing act but when it works, as with Ajay Close’s recent The Daughter Of Lady Macbeth, then it gives you two stories for the price of one, each of which feed into and enhance the other.
J. David Simon’s latest novel, A Woman Of Integrity, gets the balance right as he moves between the early-mid years of the last century and the present day. Both narrative strands concentrate on women fighting to keep their dignity and self-respect and struggling to achieve their aims and ambitions in the face of mostly, but not exclusively, male betrayal, prejudice and deceit. As the book unfolds Simons makes social and cultural comparisons between the two ages, and it becomes clear that the more things have changed the more they have stayed the same.
We first meet Laura, an actress who has just been unceremoniously dumped by her agent and who believes her career is, if not very nearly over, then very really over. At a dinner-party held by an old-friend and rival (the two often one and the same in her world) she is offered the chance of her dream role, to play a Hollywood silent-movie star who went on to become someone who, through an extraordinary life, helped define the 20th century. Her name is Georgie Hepburn, and we learn about her as Laura does while she researches her life, loves, highs and lows. Continue reading
It’s a fear of many children that they are going to grow up to be “just like your mother/father”. This is often stated as a simple comment from people who likely mean it as a compliment, albeit one with a touch of mischief, but it strikes at the core of something vital in us all. Even if there is admiration and love, the fear is not that we are like our parents on some superficial level, but that we are doomed to share their failings and destined to repeat their mistakes. It’s a fear which says more about the child than parent, but which is passed down seemingly in perpetuity from father to son, from mother to daughter.
Ajay Close’s latest novel The Daughter Of Lady Macbeth deals with this fear in a manner which is as understandable and believable as it is heartrending. The mother and daughter at the centre of the novel are Lilias and Freya. Freya is trying to get pregnant with her husband Frankie, and we follow them through increasingly desperate visits to “The Everyday Miracle Clinic” and increasingly infuriating conversations with their friends Kenny & Ruth who have a child they call “The Afterthought”, and who thoughtlessly advise that “Kids are tougher than you think”. Meanwhile Freya and Frankie try every trick in every book, and sex has becomes the means to a very specific end. Continue reading