Sorry, sorry, sorry! Once again I’ve been neglecting you! I should organise my time better, but I’ll tell you what I’ve been up to later on. So, back to Read Scotland 2014 , the challenge for which I have pledged to read upwards of 12 books in 2014, about Scotland, by Scots or people living in Scotland, set in Scotland…. you get the idea. The challenge was set by Peggy of Peggy Ann’s Post and you can read about it by clicking the logo. Well I’ve read a few more books since I last blogged, Kate Atkinson’s “Human Croquet” which I found quite odd, “Prisoner of St Kilda” by Margaret MacAuley, and “A history of the Parish of Collace” by the community itself.
Human Croquet is the story of Isobel and her weird family (acne-scarred brother Charles, Aunt Vinnie with the crab apple face, and grandmother the Widow. There’s also a weird lodger, Mr Rice, (though why, I don’t really know), after the disappearance of firstly her mother and then her father. Once there had been a great forest where now is the housing estate known as the Streets of Trees. Isobel seems to be able to go back in time, though what this actually has to do with the story I didn’t figure out at all. It all seems disjointed to me. The children know that their mother is dead, though they seem to have forgotten they covered her body with piles of autumn leaves in what remained of the old forest. Her father Charles turns up again after 7 years, having been in New Zealand, believing he killed his wife. He brings with him his new wife, the not very bright Debbie, and family life returns. Not your ordinary family life, but in the end riddles are solved. That’s all I’ll say, but if anyone can tell me why this book is “story telling at its buoyant best” – the Scotsman, “brilliant and engrossing” – the Evening Standard, and “hilarious and frightening by turns” – the Observer, please let me know! I’m obviously a bit dim!
I had been looking forward for a few years to reading The Prisoner of St Kilda, but when I finally got round to opening the book I found that far from being the novel I was expecting, it was a historical account of Rachel, Lady Grange, who, being a termagent, threatened her husband that she would reveal his Jacobite leanings in an attempt to get him to leave his London lover, Fanny. In due course Rachel was abducted and taken out of harm’s way, to spend thirteen miserable years on the Island of St Kilda, a prisoner of her husband’s making, living in nothing more than a hovel. It would be interesting to know what the St Kildans made of this Edinburgh lady, but in fact there is very little description of her enforced way of life on the island. Most of the book surrounds the politics of the day concerning the Granges and several people connected with the story, and who was for or against Lady Grange and, indeed, also her husband. I get a bit glassy-eyed when faced with a book like this, but I read on hoping for a transcript of the few letters that Rachel managed to send from her incarceration. That did not happen till the very last pages of the book, among the Appendices, which also include a couple of pages about the “Law and Marriage” at that time. Scottish Law, being different from English law (even today) would have looked more favourably on Lady Grange’s early situation than English. It seems there was a degree of equality of the sexes even in the 18th century as adultery was grounds for divorce in Scotland regardless of the gender of the adulterer. In England a woman could be divorced by her husband if she committed adultery, but a man committing the same offence was seen to have regrettably erred! I digress!
There is only one letter transcribed which only tells of Lady Grange’s abduction and how she was treated on her journey to St Kilda. The only reference she makes to the island is that it is a “vile nasty stinking poor isle. I was in great misery in Husker (one of the places on route to St Kilda) but I am ten times worse and worse here”.
The whole saga is a sad and tragic tale, which has spread over the centuries, and MacAuley has researched much to produce this book. Personally from my point of view I had hoped to read about life on St Kilda in the 18th century but for that I must continue reading another MacAuley’s “History of St Kilda”. Kenneth MacAuley visited the islands in 1763 not so very long after Lady Grange’s time, and described what he saw there. I will write more of that another day.
My fourth Read Scotland book was a small history of the Parish of Collace (emphasis on LACE) where my Kinmont ancestors came from. It covers the main villages of Kinrossie above, Collace right, and Kirkton of Collace, and describes various aspects of the development of the parish. Quite interesting, though most of the book centred on more recent times. No ancestors mentioned but I still enjoyed reading about where they had lived.
Something more on the places I’ve been over the last month or so, next time.
Talk again soon.