Customer Review

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The weight of expectations?, 8 July 2011
This review is from: And the Land Lay Still (Paperback)
I'm sorry: I really wanted to like this. I enjoyed both Robertson's The Fanatic, a wonderfully dark slice of Scottish history, and his elusive and quirky The Testament of Gideon Mack, and anything which examines Scotland's social history and politics over the last half century or so, neatly covers most of my own life. So what went wrong?

Well, perhaps it's there in the many positive reviews, which applaud the four years research which went into this. Too often I felt that characters were used as mouthpieces to regurgitate political stances, which felt oddly lifeless, and reflected many of Robertson's characters, who appeared grey, two-dimensional, and hard to care about. This includes Michael Pendreigh, the central character, Peter (James) Bond, a Westminster 'spook', David Eddlestane, entrepreneur and Tory 'grandee', and many more, who were just downright dull, perhaps because of the amount of 'research' they were being forced to carry.

Don Lennie, mechanic, Jack Gordon, the wandering soul, and Charlie Lennie, Don's son and demon psychopath, all at least have some life and personality, or mystery to them. The rest of the large cast seem underdeveloped due to their role as vehicles for the developing social and political changes in Scotland. Sadly, for me, the ambition of the book crushed both the life of the characters and the dynamic of the plot, which was too often turgid, and beset by endless lists, as if all the research had to be shoehorned somehow into the plot somehow. No sign of an editor earning their money here, to be sure.

A pity, as I was really looking forward to reading this one. If you don't know Robertson's work, don't let this stop you reading The Fanatic or the Testament of Gideon Mack, which are both interesting and intriguing novels. Wish I could have said the same about this.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 12 May 2012 10:59:40 BDT
Perhaps the most unintelligent and misguided review I've ever read. But it shows that there's always someone who doesn't get it. The book, as most people recognise, is a superb evocation of what Scots have felt over the past forty years since Thatcher blighted the kingdom. And morever, the technical mastery of the strands of the story is incomparable.

In reply to an earlier post on 12 May 2012 17:38:21 BDT
Last edited by the author on 12 May 2012 17:38:49 BDT
Sentinel says:
Sadly we have to agree to differ. I admire Robertson, and the analysis of our 'blighted kingdom'; I simply feel it is poorly executed, and the characters are too two-dimensional. Happily Scotland is big enough to absorb many such conflicting narratives, don't you think? It's what gives us our richness...?

Posted on 30 May 2012 13:35:35 BDT
Last edited by the author on 30 May 2012 13:36:17 BDT
Brodie says:
Aye, well, it could have something to do with Sentinel's state of mind or general health or what-you-will when he was reading the book. I found it beautifully put together but then, I have lived through all the days covered in the story and was old enough to remember the start of them.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Jun 2012 15:33:06 BDT
Sentinel says:
Me too Brodie!

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Aug 2012 14:48:10 BDT
I don't think I have any particular axe to grind, but ... like Sentinel I was looking forward very much to reading this book but was sorely disappointed, for very much the structural reasons he advances. Your abuse of Sentinel's review seems to be quite unjustified and highly tendentious. With the best will in the world, I found long sections of 'The Land Lay Still' a sair darg to read, and I can't agree with your assertion that it shows `technical mastery'. But I guess I too must just be unintelligent and misguided.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Aug 2012 09:43:59 BDT
Sentinel says:
I appreciate that Robert; good to know I'm not alone...

Posted on 7 Jul 2013 11:27:21 BDT
Jenniconn says:
An Englishwoman who has lived in and loved Scotland since 1971, I'm trying to decide where to start with James Robertson and am enjoying trying to puzzle this out from the reviews. Any advice?

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Jul 2013 18:26:10 BDT
Sentinel says:
Greetings from Essex. We appear to have swapped allegiances (though I know where my heart lies!). I'm not sure I'm the best person to advise you on this, having only read three of his novels, and my poorest review (for the 'Land Lay Still') still didn't prevent it winning the Saltire award!!
However, for what it's worth I'd suggest 'The Fanatic', a novel which moves between 21st century and 17th c Edinburgh, in a gripping tale of identity, religious difference, endurance, the way the past breathes on the shoulder of the present, yet with a wholly gripping narrative to stitch it all together. The Bass Rock also features in a role of which I was unaware, and the bonus is a rich vein of learning about 17th C Scotland in a very fascinating 'thriller'. 'The Testament of Gideon Mack' as features ghosts, but with a greater emphasis on the supernatural and the morality of good v evil, delivered in a quirky almost claustrophobic setting, almost the opposite of the range of the previous book. Finally, I saw a good review in the Guardian recently for the 'Professor of Truth', but have yet to investigate this. Robertson is certainly an interesting writer, and we're lucky there are many others who deserve the same accolade (I'd suggest James Meek's 'The people's Act of Love' and Michel Faber's 'Under the Skin' if you'd care for two suggestions from 'leftfield') Happy hunting
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