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The Fanatic [Paperback]

James Robertson
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

2 April 2001

An impressive debut from an exciting new Scottish voice – a stunning novel about history, identity and redemption. A no. 2 best-seller in Scotland.

It is Spring 1997 and Hugh Hardie needs a ghost for his Tours of Old Edinburgh. Andrew Carlin is the perfect candidate. So, with cape, stick and a plastic rat, Carlin is paid to pretend to be the spirit of Colonel Weir and to scare the tourists. But who is Colonel Weir, executed for witchcraft in 1670.

In his research, Carlin is drawn into the past, in particular to James Mitchel, the fanatic and co-congregationist of Weir’s, who was tried in 1676 for the attempted assassination of the Archbishop of St Andrews, James Sharp.

Through the story of two moments in history, ‘The Fanatic’ is an extraordinary history of Scotland. It is also the story of betrayals, witch hunts, Puritan exiles, stolen meetings, lost memories, smuggled journeys and talking mirrors which will confirm James Robertson as a distinctive and original Scottish writer.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; New Ed edition (2 April 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841151890
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841151892
  • Product Dimensions: 19.9 x 12.8 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 19,905 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Utterly compelling.' The Times

'A remarkable book.' Observer

'Robertson takes not just history but the notion of history; not just the question of what truth is but the act of questioning itself and breathes and extraordinary life into them…In this complex, superbly claustrophobic novel where everything is meticulously researched, and just as importantly, meticulously imagined, he urges us to see ourselves anew.' Scotland on Sunday

'A revelatory post card from clenched, pre-millennial Scotland, packed with incisive social comments and cracking set pieces. ‘The Fanatic’ is a rattling good read.' Independent on Sunday

From the Publisher

‘It is a cheering thing to be able to welcome a serious novel, mostly set in the 1670s, which has a lot to say about Scotland today . . . A remarkable book.’ Andrew Marr, Observer

‘Utterly compelling, The Fanatic is the sort of debut that sadly comes along only too rarely.’ The Times

‘Scottish history has never been so gripping’ Sunday Herald

‘Robertson has delivered a revelatory postcard from clenched, pre-millennial Scotland, packed with incisive social comments and cracking set pieces. The Fanatic is a rattling good read.’ Independent on Sunday --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an extraordinary historical novel 21 Dec 2001
By A Customer
I'm not Scottish; James Robertson's book is. That's what gives it its flavour. But its atmosphere and intelligence is such that - despite the Scots language (or dialect - let's not get into that) used, it will reach beyond a purely national audience.
This is a book that should appeal to everyone who has ever enjoyed a history documentary; or a big biography of, say, Henry VIII or Richard III or Julius Caesar.
Certainly, Robertson writes with a focused historian's vision: The Fanatic's main subject is the intractable, often bewildering religious disputes of the 17th century (mixed with a dash of modern-day Edinburgh, with all its tourist and students and flakes). And the author, though he's an accesible writer, does not dumb down for his readers
But this novel is also about a time when committing to a cause meant something, and when the stakes of standing up for a belief were so much higher than today. The phrase "sticking your neck out" doesn't come from nowhere...
Top class. I'm on tenterhooks for the sequel
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars and if you know your history............... 12 July 2001
By A Customer
If you're into history and know the landscape and past of Edinburgh/Scotland then you'll really take to this book. He captures the present day Edinburgh very well and (although I wasn't there at the time!) convinced me of the harsh realities of the Tolbooth Prison and the Bass Rock a few centuries ago. The portrayal of life in Edinburgh then and now will strike a chord with anyone who has sympathy for those living on the outer edge of society.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By HeavyMetalMonty VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
James Robertson isn't just an excellent Scottish writer; he's an excellent writer, period. His knowledge of Scottish history is as impressive as his ability to evoke vivid images in the mind's eye of the reader. Having previously read and been amazed by 'The Testament of Gideon Mack', I picked up 'The Fanatic' with high hopes. When I read that witchcraft, religious persecution, ghosts, intolerance, bestiality and incest were ingredients in the story, I expected a yarn of Tam O' Shanteresque proportions. The result, however, fell short of that mark.

The story follows Andrew Carlin, who secures a cash-in-hand job on an Edinburgh ghost tour, playing the spectre of Major Weir, an infamous historical figure executed in Edinburgh during the 17th Century for being in league with the Devil, and other crimes such as incest with his sister, and bestiality with a variety of animals. As Carlin's research takes him deep into Major Weir's past, they become kindred souls of sorts; both Carlin and Weir have been plagued by personal demons, just as both have been misunderstood, feared, despised and persecuted. Carlin's consciousness increasingly straddles two eras, one foot planted in the past, one in the present day, but existing fully in neither. His studies and visions uncover a James Mitchel, co-conspirator of Major Weir, and fellow Covenanter. Mitchel's failed assassination attempt on Archbishop James Sharp led to his torture and subsequent imprisonment on Bass Rock, where his mental and physical faculties went into decline. There are parallels between Mitchel's exile on Bass Rock and Carlin's banishment from Scotland after (being falsely accused of) the attemped rape of an underage girl.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary debut novel. 5 Aug 2000
This is an extraordinary debut novel. The recreation of the vicious, internecine plotting and fighting that took place after the restoration of Charles 1 is fantastically well-done. At times one is almost forced to stop reading, such is the inhumanity that men heap upon other fellow men and women. As the book shifts to-and-from the late 20th to the late 17th centuries pertinent questions are raised about precisely what kind of society and nation Scotland now wants to become. Thouroughly recommended.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
James Robertsons novel weaves together (not entirely convincingly) stories set in Edinburgh in 1990s and the 1670s. The novel deals with little discussed aspect of Scottish history and juxtaposes it with modern day events, most specifically the 1997 General election.
The historical aspects of the novel are well done dramatic but at the same time credible - you believe that what you are reading is close to the truth. However the more current storyline is thin and seems a little forced in its symbolism.
While the historical characters really come to life only one of the modern characters is more than paper thin.
All in all a decent, entertaining and informative read, but be prepared for loats aw brawd Scots dialekt!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important advance in Scottish writing 24 Feb 2002
By A Customer
Robertson's novel, as well as being a gripping, trans-historical yarn about demonology, depression and detectives, is an important advance in what Scotland can offer in terms of literary fiction. Forget the slumming it shabby-chic of the Irvine Welsh clones, this is a novelist ready to grapple with Ideas, and prosecute them through engaged narrative. A fugue between the past and the present, a dialectic, an argument and above all an urgency.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Strange but interesting 27 Jan 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A retelling of the story of the covenanter James Mitchel,who was tortured and later hung for not killing the Archbishop of St Andrews. Intertwined with the strange life of the researcher in 1990s Edinburgh
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit of life in ordinary Glasgow
As a friendly, relaxed account of the author's experiences as a salesman in, usually, Glasgow's poorer districts this is a pleasant -and sometimes not so pleasant- tale. Read more
Published 2 months ago by David
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant book by a superb writer.
James Robertson writes compelling, highly readable novels. The detail in The Fanatic is mind-blowing and his narrative voice in all his work just draws you in. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mrs. L. Nichol
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a huge fan
After the quite wonderful Gideon Mack, I was really looking forward to this, but while the ideas are good and the characters equally quirky and memorable, it is a terribly flat and... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Dillon the Villain
1.0 out of 5 stars I wish I'd never bought it
This has to be one of the most indecipherable books I have ever had the misfortune to read. Carefully picking out the story from pages of historical Scottish dialect, juxtaposed... Read more
Published on 20 Nov 2001
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting exposition of the way history affects us all
James Robertson's novel is ambitious in scope yet he manages to weave his story well between Edinburgh in the 1990s and Edinburgh in the 17th century. Read more
Published on 22 May 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars a stunner, transcecnds historical fiction
dense as a highlander's beard, this book transcencds the bounds of historical novels, triumphantly carving out a space all its own. Read more
Published on 1 Dec 2000
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