An extended sojourn with Scottish literature has kept these half-forgotten words crowding in thick and fast. Here are a few that might require translation.
Cowp – spill or tip
Warsle – wrestle or struggle with
Fykie – fiddly
Fankled – tangled (especially of wool or thread)
Havers, havering – rubbish, ranting, talking like a mad person
Driech – dull, dismal (e.g. of the weather, or on Sunday of a dull sermon!)Swithering – undecided, dithering (state of mind, but also of the weather)
Stoater – something extremely big or impressive
Most of these have been brought to mind by James Robertson’s And the Land Lay Still, where the dialogue replicates almost exactly what I heard around me as I grew up, at least from the older generation. Aside from the vocabulary I’m particularly enjoying the difference in idiom, e.g. a ‘long lie’, rather than a lie-in, and somebody being ‘in the road’ rather than in the way. But my absolute favourite is the morn’s morn. As a child I remember unpicking this apparent tautology to work out how it could mean tomorrow morning.
And by the morn’s morn, I hope to have finished the book itself. It’s as intricate and accurate a protrayal of post-war Scotland as anyone could hope for. I admit it has also been something of a long haul, as I also found with The Lacuna. But Kingsolver’s view of US history and politics had the advantage of a single and wholly engaging central character, whereas Robertson has a wider camera angle, encompassing the familes of miners, tradesmen and the Scottish upper classes as they struggle to keep their feet in the shifting sands of political power as well as economic and social change. According to the blurb, the book ‘brilliantly blends the personal and the political’, but I think that there are moments when with so many charactes telling so many stories, and with Robertson intent on filling in all the background political detail, the personal gets lost. Depite it’s 600 pages, there are characters in the novel (like Billy Lennie and Barbara Gordon) whose stories are told in hurried exposition and who could have had whole novels to themselves! But this, I think, is all part of Robertson’s plan, to paint some areas with a broad brush while dwelling on others in loving detail.
The Lacuna, of course, has an ending that makes a wonderful unity of it all, and I’m hoping that Robertson will pull off something similar. Even if he doesn’t, it’s a book that I suspect will stay with me long after I have laid it aside, and is a uniquely authentic view of how present-day Scotland has come into being.
Happy Dawn Update – Monday 15th
Fabulous! Not only does JR draw all his threads together in one climactic scene but also involves my very own Scotttish hero. That’s it. Five stars and no arguing. Also an excellent omen for that other novel I am going to write. I might even start it soon.