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And the Land Lay Still

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Showing no regret for his actions, however uncharacteristic, Eric is taken in a taxi to a remote hotel in the Scottish highlands; a place that never sees any guests and the snow never stops falling.

The geographical separation of the United Kingdom from the continental mainland and its achievement of world prominence as one people have had a strong unifying effect which we regard as irreversible. ( Royal Commission 1973, I, 122) A gorgeous feat of verse, Deep Wheel Orcadia weaves a story of place and belonging while introducing a compelling cast of characters that you’re sure to resonate with.

Managing such worries took up a good deal of the Commission’s time. The minutes of a November 1972 meeting show the degree to which devising a coherent plan to recognise (and neuter) ‘national feeling’ involved extensive debate over how to accommodate cultural difference within the British national story: This classic gothic book tells the story of a respected London solicitor, Gabriel John Utterson, who is investigating the strange occurrences between his friend Dr. Henry Jekyll and the evil Edward Hyde. This one will keep you on the edge of your seat, as it’s been doing to readers for generations!

This is the culturalist case at its strongest (perhaps slightly needled by revisionist commentary from critics including Alex Thomson and myself), and it features strongly in And the Land Lay Still. One passing irony is that ‘cultural revolution’ should figure as the inspiration of a reformist political project ‘of a strikingly conservative character’, in the words of Vernon Bogdanor, whose core purpose is to ‘renegotiate the terms of the Union so as to make them more palatable to Scottish opinion in the conditions of the late twentieth century’ ( Bogdanor 2001, 119). But this is to view devolution from the centre, as an exercise in containment – even appeasement – rather than peripheral empowerment. Devolution looks very different viewed from Whitehall as compared to the literary pubs of Edinburgh, one key reason Scottish writers and cultural activists have been able to narrate the process in their own image, on terms that arguably inflate their political influence beyond the urban cognoscenti. 4 Set in the run-down public houses of 1980’s Glasgow just before the notorious drug epidemic hits the city, Shuggie Bain tells the story of Hugh “Shuggie” Bain, a sweet and shy boy whose siblings leave him to care for their alcoholic mother. If for Craig the ‘effective cause’ of devolution’s endorsement in 1997 was cultural revolution, there is little doubt that the proximate cause was electoral. This part of the story is well-trodden ground, and vividly told in Robertson’s novel: Winnie Ewing’s sensational victory for the SNP in the 1967 Hamilton by-election, and growing alarm within the Labour government at the threat posed by the nationalists, rising sharply after the discovery of North Sea Oil in 1970. Both to allay and defer these pressures, Harold Wilson announced his intention to appoint a Royal Commission on the Constitution in late 1968.How Treasure Island was born out of Robert Louis Stevenson trying to amuse his stepson on a wet summer holiday in Braemar Longlisted for the Highland Book Prize 2020, Grimoire is a new and thrilling take on Scottish folk tales. Narrated by a doomed shape-shifter, Grimoire tells folkloric tales of violence and magic, witches and selkies, and of the beauty and hostility of the Scottish landscape itself, which is as much a character as any of the creatures of this book.

Bold, discursive and deep, Robertson's sweeping history of life and politics in 20th-century Scotland should not be ignored' Ian Rankin, Observer Books of the Year James Robertson's new novel is a highly ambitious work spanning 60 years, looking at the world through a Scottish lens – almost literally, for its framing device is a retrospective exhibition of pictures taken by a renowned Caledonian photographer. And the Land Lay Still examines how the postwar aspirations of many Scots for a socialist Britain gave way to a resurgent nationalism, and a greater demand for home rule.Robertson, of course, cleverly has some of these stories crossing one another, with people bumping into each other and then not meeting again for many years, or meeting in ways you might not suspect. But, while their individual stories are certainly interesting and do show up the complicated nature of politics in Scotland, we are asked to sympathise with a variety of disparate characters and, inevitably, the most interesting ones tend to be the less than pleasant ones, namely the violent thug and the foot fetish Tory. Did Robertson intend this? I suspect not, though this may just be my perverse nature and other readers may come to love the characters Robertson wants us to love. Nevertheless, it is fascinating account of Scottish history in the second half of the twentieth century, even if not entirely successful. Publishing history

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