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Butchers Broom [Paperback]

Neil M. Gunn
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
Price: 7.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

6 July 2006
'Butcher's Broom' is Neil Gunn's epic recreation of the Highland Clearances of the nineteenth century, when great changes swept through the country and its people. Tapping into the essence of Gaelic experience, 'Butcher's Broom' is the story of a community threatened with eviction, in order to make way for sheep. At the centre of the novel is the mysterious Dark Mairi, who embodies the spirit of ancient Highland culture. The sense of Gaelic community and tradition is captured, while the novel's characters exemplify what is most vital and lasting in mankind. This is among the most moving of Gunn's works and establishes the transcendent spirituality that would be so dominant in his later work.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Polygon An Imprint of Birlinn Limited; 1st Edition edition (6 July 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1904598919
  • ISBN-13: 978-1904598916
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 406,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


You might know the story of the Highland Clearances, but Gunn makes you feel them too, feel the pain. --Glasgow Evening Times

Modern Scottish fiction reaches its highest peak in the novels of Neil M. Gunn... he transcends regionalism and acquires universality. --The Scotsman

Gunn has given us a wonderful body of work... the greatest in Scottish literature since Sir Walter Scott. --Neil MacDiarmid

About the Author

NEIL M. GUNN was born in Dunbeath, Caithness in 1891, the seventh of nine children. His father James was a fisherman, and his mother Isabella was a domestic servant. Gunn left the Highlands to live with his sister and her family, and was educated privately, passing his Civil Service exams in 1907. He published short stories throughout the 1920's and his first novel 'The Grey Coast' in 1926. He wrote several other novels, including 'The Green Isle of the Deep' (1944), 'The Silver Darlings' (1941) and his autobiography, 'The Atom of Delight', in 1956. He died in 1973.

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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lessons of History 9 Jan 2007
By David
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Anyone who wants to understand the main corpus of Gunn's novels should start here, for the inhumane evictions that we know as the Clearances remained at the back of his mind as he wrote of the generations who followed, particularly in "The Silver Darlings".

He shows how the Highlanders were betrayed by the greed of the Scottish aristocracy, the callousness of Parliament, and by a system of law which was created and enforced by the rich for their own benefit; betrayed too by the Church, which preached a message of punishment for sin and a humble acqiescence.

The general mood of the novel is increasingly sombre and tragic, yet, amid all their suffering, Gunn's crofters come alive in their painstaking toil, their practical caring for one another, and their celebration of life itself. His descriptions of the landscape and the patient suffering of the womenfolk are reminiscent of Hardy at his most powerful, and his heartfelt sympathy for this suffering generation is expressed in prose which rises at times to the level of poetry.

"Butcher's Broom" deserves to be given a place among the most significant works of modern British literature, and should be read by anyone who seeks to appreciate something of the price which was paid for the defeat of Napoleon and the strength of the British Empire.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Butcher's Broom 4 Nov 2012
Beautiful, mystical and incredibly moving.......my favourite of the Neil M. Gunn novels. If you have never heard of the Highland Clearances before, you will never forget them after reading Butcher's Broom
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving masterpiece of a novel… 14 Mar 2014
There is a symbolic moment in Neil Gunn’s moving masterpiece of a novel when the wife of Captain Grant, the landlord of the tenant-farmers in the tiny glen of the Riasgan, throws her box-holly into the fire. The box-holly, or Butcher’s Broom, is the clan badge of the Sutherlands, in Muriel Grant’s eyes dishonoured by the clan chief’s betrayal of the tenants.

Gunn’s novel is a ‘faction’, a fiction based on what happened in the Highland Clearances of the early 19th century. During the Clearances, the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland employed agents, the principal being significantly called Heller in Gunn’s novel, to evict thousands of tenant farmers from the land that they had worked since time immemorial. In their stead, and in the name of ‘agricultural improvement’, huge swathes of northern Scotland were given over to sheep.

Make no mistake: this is ethnic cleansing. In ‘Butcher’s Broom’, a people considered ‘savages’ by Heller, a lowland Scot, have the roofs of their homes burnt over them. As Elder, another lowland Scot, puts it: ‘We know they are unlearned and their dialect can have only a very few words because the things around them are few and they live pretty much like animals’. Dispossessed, the Gaelic-speaking inhabitants of the Riasgan become refugees, those archetypal figures of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Whilst ‘Butcher’s Broom’ is epic in scope, it is personal in implication. The central characters are two women: Dark Mairi, a wise-woman and healer, and Ellie, her granddaughter. Their insights into the behaviour of others make Mairi and Ellie convincing characters. The more we learn about Mairi, Ellie and their neighbours, the more we are moved by their sensibilities in the context of what we might regard as hard and economically impoverished lives.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
"Ruscus aculeatus (butcher's broom) is a member
of the Liliaceae family. It has tough, green, erect, striated
stems that send out numerous short branches and
very rigid leaves that are actually extensions of the stem
and terminate in a single sharp spine." [...]

Butcher's Broom, as an herb, appears in Gunn's magnificent novel but also serves as a metaphor for the treatment of the Highlanders after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 through the early 1800s by their English factors and landlords (sometimes Clan chiefs).

Neil M. Gunn was born in the Highlands county of Caithness, and so had a personal interest in the brutal interruption of the Clan way of life, an abrupt end to agriculture and a forced reliance on fish and seaweed collection along the coast.

In fact, a factor, Mr. Elder discusses some of Gunn's ancestors, the MacHamish family: "There's only one bad nest of them and they're up on the Heights--MacHamishes, a sept of the Gunns, thoroughly godless dangerous ruffians. There are some Gunns, too, but they'll be evicted first of all, because they know enough to organise the Strath--and they would. All that lot live by breaking the law."

These are the Gaelic speakers of Scotland, so not only a way of life was desecrated but also a language was largely obliterated. Their story is much like that of the Native Americans in the United States. They were literally burned out of their homes, the sick and elderly left to die of smoke inhalation in their thatched cottages. The people who were not initially butchered later suffered from previously unknown diseases introduced by the large-scale sheep farmers, replacing humans with sheep.
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