Tag Archives: Scotland

* At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

At The Water’s Edge stars a trio of spoiled Philadelphians who decide to go photograph the Loch Ness monster near the end of the Second World War, bringing with them a breaking-down marriage and very little money as they have been cut off from the family fortune after one too many escapade. Their haughty and oblivious behaviors do not endear them to the locals, but as the two men leave the woman to wait for them at the inn, she mysteriously acquires half a brain, realizes that she is acting as a twit, and even manages to contribute a bit to the world. A love story ensues, of course, in which she is forever rescued from her weaknesses by the stoic, taciturn local. Cliches abound. I did not like.

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*** The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel

I can feel a new crime series starting: with The Strings of Murder, we not only encounter a blood-soaked Victorian mystery, but also two inspectors with, as we would say today, personal baggage, one a London snob who is slumming it in Edinburgh after having been kicked out of his job at Scotland Yard in the midst of a political intrigue and the other a local with a frightful family history. The mystery will be solved, after many more murders and twists, and I imagine the inspectors will make it to another book.

Every once in a while the historical details seem overdone, or the conversation is anachronistic (no teenagers in Victorian times!) but the overall effect is engrossing.

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*** Rise by Karen Campbell


Rise is the fictional story of another kind of escape into the countryside, from sexual abuse into a small Scotland village. But there are no cliches about abusive relationships, no platitudes about small-town life, and, mercifully, no harangues about the Scottish independence vote, which is about to happen as a minor theme in the story. The story is thrilling but the focus is on the heroine and her complicated feelings and scheming as she burrows into a local family for protection, while the family is imploding, in part because of her actions. Even the ending is properly sober. Highly recommended!

 

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** Closed Doors by Lisa O’Donnell


A story from Scotland on a day important for Scotland!

The narrator of Closed Doors is a young boy whose mother is assaulted but will not go to the police because she is afraid that her small island community would ostracize her and her family. The writing is very good, but somehow it sounded just a little too precious to me. I did like how the author was able to convey the almost suffocating atmosphere of the closed-in island community, where getting along is more important, it seems, than one’s own survival.

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** Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith

Surprise! A novel by Alexander McCall Smith that is not part of an existing series, whether the legendary No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,  Isabel Dalhousie, or 44 Scotland Street series. Trains and Lovers takes place on a train, between Scotland and London, and brings together four people’s stories of love that went mostly wrong.  I doubt that any train companions would talk so long and deep about their lives but novels are all about suspending disbelief, right, and the stories are engaging and tender, coming  together in a pleasing whole rather than simply being four juxtaposed short stories. Another bonus is the story from Australia (Perth), a location that has figured in other Mc Call Smith’s books and is nicely highlighted here. Nicely done and charming, although no more than that.

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* Orkney by Amy Sackville

Orkney is the dreamy story of a honeymoon with a bad ending, featuring a professor in his sixties and his young bride and recent student.  While I admire the carefully writing and the grandiose description of the sea, I found the professor a trite concupiscent and jealous man and his wife a most improbable slippery character. By the end I was rooting for a disaster to end the story; I won.

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** Transatlantic by Colum Mccann


TransAtlantic is an ambitious family saga that melds Ireland and New York, the early beginnings of aviation and the abolition of slavery, but unfortunately the strands never manage to braid properly, at least for me. We are left with great individual stories (that of Senator Mitchell, who negotiated the Good Friday accords, as well as that of Lily Duggan, an illiterate Irish maid fleeing the potato famine), complex, interesting characters (especially the women characters, Lily and her descendants), and a multitude of well-observed details (for instance Frederick Douglass’s observations as a black man in Ireland) but they remain as frustrating islands for an end result that could have been so much more.

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