Edinburgh is a UNESCO City of Literature (the very first in the world to receive the accolade in 2004) and in between going to events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last week, I visited a few of the literary attractions and bookshops that the city has to offer.
The National Library of Scotland
The National Library of Scotland has its main base in Edinburgh’s Old Town on George IV Bridge and is home to some 24 million printed items including one of the world’s largest collections of maps. As it is a research library, the reading rooms can only be accessed if you are a member but there are temporary exhibitions for visitors including displays of flyers and programmes from the Edinburgh Festival which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. The main exhibition running at the moment is ‘Enduring Eye: The Antarctic Legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Hurley’ which documents the Endurance expedition and rescue in 1914-16 and includes diaries, photographs, letters and other items from various archives. Admission is free and it’s well worth a look if you’re passing by. Continue reading
Shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize, ‘His Bloody Project’ by Graeme Macrae Burnet tells the story of seventeen-year-old Roderick Macrae, accused of committing three brutal murders in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands in 1869. Presented as a series of documents “discovered” by the author whilst researching his family history, the first half of the book consists of Roddy’s written statement in which he confesses to the crimes and gives his version of events leading up to the murders followed by an account of the trial and verdict. The identity of one of the victims is revealed at the beginning to be local constable Lachlan Mackenzie while the other two remain a mystery until the event itself occurs. Continue reading
‘The Panopticon’ by Jenni Fagan tells the story of Anais Hendricks, a fifteen-year-old young offender from Scotland who has spent all of her life in care and is more or less constantly in trouble with the police. After being accused of assaulting a police officer who ends up in a coma, she spends time in the Panopticon, an institution for chronic young offenders which takes its name from Jeremy Bentham’s suggested “circular prison with cells so constructed that the prisoners can be observed at all times”.
‘Under the Skin’ is a very difficult book to summarise without giving away too much of the plot. Essentially, it tells the story of Isserley, who drives around deserted areas of northern Scotland picking up well-built lone male hitchhikers. I really don’t want to tell you any more than that and if you’ve already read it, then you’ll understand why. If you haven’t, then you’ll have to forgive me for being so cryptic. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that the book is much more intriguing if you read it without any real clues about what will happen beyond the initial set-up. Continue reading
Set in Scotland in the 1860s, ‘The Observations’ by Jane Harris tells the story of Bessy Buckley, a feisty Irish girl who is taken on as a maid at Castle Haivers by Arabella Reid. Bessy has a number of secrets and is keen that her shady past doesn’t catch up with her. But it turns out that Arabella herself also has a dark history and her obsession with her former maid, Nora, who died in tragic circumstances, proves to be a catalyst for even more mystery. Continue reading
‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris tells the story of Harriet Baxter and her close friendship with the Gillespie family in Glasgow in the late 1880s while the International Exhibition was being held. However, when tragedy strikes the family, their relationship with Harriet quickly unravels and deep secrets are revealed. Harriet tells the story as she looks back on events whilst writing her memoirs in 1933 at the age of eighty but the story is not over as it soon becomes clear that a figure from Harriet’s past has re-emerged in her life.
I think the book’s real strength lies in Harriet’s biased narrative and the way in which Harris builds suspense and subtly manipulates the reader’s expectations and perceptions of the characters. The first 100 pages or so definitely lull you into a false sense of security because of the supposed innocence with which they are written. I love unreliable narrators and this one does not disappoint. Continue reading