A passing aside

by Malcolm Redfellow

This was intended to be no more than Malcolm’s record of his own reading. This week he is deep into a heavy history, which remains unfinished and therefore not yet acknowledged here.

Meanwhile, a column from Herald Scotland came Malcolm’s way:

This deserves encouragement.

The project could be as much as a significant list or as little as a column filler. It is defined as:

We want your help to compile the definitive list of the 100 most important Scottish novels of all time: the books you’ve read, those you’ve been meaning to read, the ones you’d recommend to friends and family.

Here are the first 10 choices, endorsed by HeraldScotland Literary Editor Rosemary Goring, but presented in no particular order.

But we also need your participation to come up with the other 90 titles. Please send us your nomination (title, author, year of publication, and a maximum of 50 words explaining your choice) to hs@heraldandtimes.co.uk.

Each month, we’ll add five more books to our list and say who made the choice and why.

Ninety books, in five-book tranches, takes us neatly to Christmas 2012, so something to watch and wait for.

The first ten, for the record, are:

  • Lewis Grassic Gibbon: Sunset Song (1932)
  • Muriel Spark: The Pride of Miss Jean Brodie (1961)
  • Irvine Welsh: Trainspotting (1993)
  • R.L.Stevenson: Kidnapped (1886)
  • John Buchan: The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915)
  • Alasdair Gray: Lanark (1981)
  • Ian Rankin: Black and Blue (1997)
  • George Macdonald: The Princess and the Goblin (1872)
  • Janice Galloway: Clara (2002)
  • Tobias Smollett: The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771).

Malcolm’s hit-rate there: seven read for certain, six of them known to be on the shelves.

What’s missing?

Well, for first thoughts and in alphabetical order:

  • No R.M. Ballantyne: surely The Coral Island (1857) must be still in the collective consciousness? If only because it is the germ from which William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954) developed.
  • No Iain [M.] Banks, whom Malcolm would include under both identities for The Wasp Factory (1984) and Consider Phlebas (1987)
  • No Christopher Brookmyre: a dozen anti-establishment novels, all tending to the noir end of detective fiction. Malcolm reckons the opening of Quite Ugly One Morning (1996), Inspector McGregor dreaming of retirement on Islay and meeting the squalor of a Leith crime-scene, must be one of the most gut-busting ever.
  • No George Mackay Brown. Take your pick: Greenvoe (1972); Magnus (1973) or — Malcolm’s choice — Vinland (1992). For a taster, the kid-lit short-story collection Pictures in the Cave.
  • No AJ Cronin. The Citadel (1937) was one of the seminal inspirations for the NHS. Some say that book was a significant factor in determining the 1945 Election.
  • No Conan Doyle. Doubtless A Study in Scarlet (1887) will be along for the Herald list shortly — or perhaps The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901) will edge it out. What about the romances?  — The Lost World (1912) seems to have had a remarkable afterlife.
  • No Kenneth Grahame. The Wind in the Willows (1908): say no more.
  • No Neil M. Gunn. Best known for The Silver Darlings (1941); but second only to Gibbon (see above) as the archetypal Scottish novelist of the first half of the Twentieth Century
  • No Alistair Maclean. Over two dozen thrillers in thirty years. Currently out-of-fashion, but deserves a nod: The Guns of Navarone (1957) or Where Eagles Dare (1967) or …
  • No Naomi Mitchison. Another prolific writer out-of-fashion. Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962) as a token?
  • No Neil Munro. Aw, c’mon! Para Handy! Erchie MacPherson!
  • No Walter Scott. Incredible! Needs inclusion for Ivanhoe (1819), Rob Roy (1817) and services to the film and tartan industries.
  • No Iain Crichton Smith. The Bard of Taynuilt’s Consider the Lilies (1968) ought to be on the final list.
That still leaves a few Scots by ancestry or adoption. For obvious examples:
  • Ian Fleming (Bond, James Bond, harks back to his parental origin in Glencoe);
  • Compton Mackenzie (a Geordie by birth);
  • J.K.Rowling (an in-comer);
  • Alexander McCall Smith (born in Bulawayo, but Scottish by any other measure).
[Also cross-posted on Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service.]