More Scottish Island Fiction
I would like to begin by presenting a quote that appears on the inside flap of this novel.
“Dr. Murray Watson is a disenchanted academic whose research is going nowhere, a lover of poetry and a failure in love, a drinker with a problematic personal life. The object of his study is Archie Lunan, a young poet, the brightest of his generations, whose death thirty years prior is shrouded in mystery.” (from inside flap).
This particular description did not have me chomping at the bit to read this book. I read several reviews because I really wanted to want to read this book but so many of them pointed out that his book would really appeal to academic types who would find the conflicts and politics very familiar. Not me again (I barely got through my undergraduate degree maybe 35 years ago but I was never cut out for higher academics.) I have friends and even a brother who is a lecturing PhD. so I am aware of the “publish or perish” pressure but I was still not convinced that I wanted to read this book. In the end it was the mystery surrounding the death of the poet that intrigued me enough to read this book. I sincerely think it peaked my interest because it sounds so similar to the mystery surrounding a famous Canadian painter named Tom Thomson. I will explain more about Tom Thomson near the end of this post.
I will admit that this novel really picked up for me when Dr. Watson made the trip to the Scottish Island of Lismore (a real Island) in an attempt to unravel the puzzle of Lunan’s death. I found it much more interesting at this point and in the end I felt it was a satisfying read.
Tom Thomson; I am Canadian and I am familiar with the story of Tom Thomson (August 1877-July 8, 1917)but it is almost impossible for me to gauge how well-known his story is outside of Canada. But here goes….Tom Thomson was a painter who was renowned for his nature studies in oils. He was heavily influenced by a group of painters who would become know as “The Group of Seven” but he was never a member since he died before the group was officially formed. In 2009 a Thomson painting sold for 2.75 million cd dollars making Thomson one of that vast group of painters whose real financial success came after his death. He spent most of his last years living in a cabin in Algonquin park where he painted year round. I should explain at this point that Algonquin park is a huge provincial park; over 2,400 lakes and 1,200 kilometers of streams, it is about 1/4 the size of Belgium. One day Tom went fishing but he didn’t come back. His body was found eight days later with fishing line wrapped around his ankles. The official cause of death was accidental drowning. But since his death almost 100 years ago there have been no shortage of researchers and journalists who have vowed to discover “the truth’ . And so, depending on what you chose to read or believe, Tom’s death was a murder, a suicide or an accident and there may or may not have been a pregnant young lady involved. Also his body may or may not have been moved from its original grave. Still a mystery
I am afraid that I have written more about Tom Thomson then I have about the book but hey I did warn you that the book made me think of Tom Thomson.
Yes, I can read the top of my blog and it doesn’t say anything about nonfiction memoirs, but I read the book and I want to talk about it! (sorry,I didn’t mean to sound so cranky) This is the story of one woman’s quest to see and do all things connected to LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. First she divides the TLHOTP (The Little House On The Prairie )People into two camps; there are the book people and there are the T.V. show people. The t.v. show people are the fans of the 1970s show starring Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert and the book people are fans of the 8-book series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and published originally in the 1930s. The t.v show would not exist without the book and the book certainly enjoyed a resurgence of popularity due to the t.v. show. Wendy McClure is a book person–she read the series as a child and then she rereads them before she begins this quest.(actually it sounds as though she read each book many times) She does homey things like churning butter and preparing sourdough bread while she plans her trip to all the LHOTP homesites,— and she watches the t.v. show. And there are a lot of homesites because the book Ingalls moved a lot (unlike the t.v. show Ingalls who spent most of their time in Walnut Grove.)
I consider myself to be a book person although I did not discover them until I was an adult. I am older than Ms. McClure and I would have been a teenager when the t.v. show first appeared. I do remember watching the first couple of years (sporadically) I lost interest when Mary went blind (she actually did ) and the town built a multi-racial blind school (never happened-Mary went to a state blind school) and Mary married blind Adam who later regained his sight and became a lawyer (Mary never married ). Somewhere the show lost the whole Ingalls family thing. But I read the entire series of books (in order and out loud) when my daughters were 8 years old. At that point, I fell in love with the idea of simple living. I was living the modern mother’s dilemma of too much choice–(poor me) where to go to school, which daycare, what foods are healthy (that list constantly changing). It seemed easier to just say we will be having salt pork and turnips because-well-that’s all we have.
But real Laura’s life was very difficult and I was shocked to discover that Rose Wilder Lane considered her childhood to be miserable. Yikes, a miserable childhood with half-pint as your mom! Another area discussed in the book is a controversy surrounding the authorship of the Little House books. Apparently Rose(an established writer) edited and advised her mother but –How much? There are differing opinions on that subject.
Ms. McClure visits all the different homesites with the accompanying museums, pageants and replica log cabins and she has some witty observations and excellent insights. At one of the homesites she meets a woman who refuses to look at a photograph of the actual Ingalls family as adults. It is not possible for her to reconcile this sombre group of people, with the Ingalls she knew and loved.(People did not smile in photos back then but even still–this is not Michael Landon as Pa)-The photo is easy to google.
One of the funniest chapters in the book occurs when the author and her fabulously game boyfriend decide to spend a homesteading week-end at a farm. They are prepared to learn about weaving and blacksmithing and other skills experienced by farmers of Laura’s era–basically sharing knowledge with like-minded people. Instead they find themselves in the company of a religious group who are preparing for the end of the world. Funny stuff.
This is an excellent book but I think it would likely only appeal to fans of LHOTP.–But this is not a small group!
Center Point Publishing 2010.