49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
A stunning achievement - best book I've read for ages,
This review is from: And the Land Lay Still (Hardcover)
James Robertson's And The Land Lay Still couldn't be more evocative of Scotland if it came deep fried with a dram of whisky on the side and a soundtrack of bagpipes. As it is, it's the size of a small caber, but this is not a book you want to toss away. It's wonderful. It's beautiful. It's epic.
The basis for the story is Michael Pendreich who is preparing an exhibition of photographs from taken by his late father, Angus. The focus is on the people rather than the landscape though. Angus had a reputation for taking pictures that are slightly off of the main subject matter - something known as the Angus Angle. Michael had a strained relationship with his father and as he prepares for the exhibition he wonders about his father's life and the subjects of the photographs. As Mike searches for a thematic link between the images, this is a metaphor for the book with a rich cast of believable characters. However, what it is in reality is a celebration of Scotland and a social and political history of Scotland in the post war years, with an on-going focus on national identity. But just like Angus' photographs, Robertson makes these political issues an angle on a series of stories and character studies that intertwine.
It's a terrific achievement. Robertson is a highly gifted story-teller himself and while those searching for a clear plot line might be frustrated, what emerges is one of the most evocative and convincing celebrations of a country that I've had the pleasure of reading. He's clever too. Some characters speak in Scottish dialects, but these are not always the ardent supporters of nationalism. No, that would be too cliche and easy. And yes, his characters do take opposing views, although the over-riding sense is that independence is a good thing. Certainly I was more convinced than I have been by any politician, Scottish or otherwise.
He covers 50 years of history, taking in the post war years, oil, Thatcher, the Argentina world cup, right up to the modern day, and always there are the political issues of devolution, nationalism and independence. And while it's an epic length, the pages fly by.
In addition to the Mike story, there is a plethora of rich characters ranging from an alcoholic ex-intelligence officer, two WW2 veterans, a journalist, amongst many others. The book gets increasingly political as it goes on and the threads of the characters' lives become apparent. It's more of a kaleidoscope of lives than a tightly knit plot line.
It's as breathtakingly beautiful as Scotland but without the rain and the cold. What could be better than that?