Customer Review

3.0 out of 5 stars Throw the R away, 7 Jan 2014
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This review is from: A Capital Union (Kindle Edition)
A Capital Union is a novel about conflicting loyalties.

Told by Agnes, a young Ayrshire girl who has found herself in 1942, under the age of 18, married to Jeff, a University of Edinburgh lecturer. Jeff's field of study is linguistics - specifically recording Scots dialect. He "found" Agnes whilst recording Ayrshire Scots and whisked her off to his late mother's tenement in affluent Morningside. Agnes is out of her depth; she is expected to be genteel, refined and able to keep house despite the privations of rationing. She depends heavily on Jeff, whom she barely knows, to guide her in her new station.

So, Agnes is surprised to find that Jeff is involved in nationalist politics, being prominent in a campaign to not recognise the Westminster government's conscription to arms. Agnes is mortified to be associated with such an unpopular campaign and is afraid on the one hand that she will be ostracised from a community in which she already feels uncomfortable, and afraid on the other that she will be left on her own if Jeff is jailed as a conscientious objector.

From the outset, there are conflicts between the national and the personal. Jeff is also not too keen on the idea of imprisonment and this will test his political resolve. But he is also tested by the fact he is supposedly taking his stand - just as he is recording Scots dialect - to protect the Scottish birthright of people like Agnes who seem so ambivalent to his objectives. Meanwhile, the astute reader will pick up that, as a Sgitheanach, he is already compromising himself by working to preserve the Scots dialect (or Lallans, as he would have it) whilst ignoring the early signs of the demise of his own Gàidhlig language.

Agnes, for her part, is terribly young and extremely nave. She married simply because she thought marriage was inevitable, but being barely more than a child she looks for love wherever she can find it. Although having grave misgivings with Jeff, she looks to others who are more extreme still. She seems to deal with people purely on the basis of her last contact with them - if they were nice to her she will be loyal to them; if they were unkind to her she will betray them. This, despite bringing her into conflict with her purported wartime patriotic duty.

The relationships are intriguing and Agnes is an engaging character. The men seem much more to be ciphers and feel less real - perhaps because we are forced to see them through Agnes's uneducated eyes. But the writing tends to clunk. The early pre-occupation with Scots dialect feels like random words dropped into an English sentence. It doesn't flow or feel authentic. Later on, a character speaks in German and always follows up each German sentence with a direct translation into English. This *really* grates. And the ending feels rushed and rather improbable.

On a positive note, Victoria Hendry does a good job in describing Edinburgh at war - a city that still had life and activity, famous buildings and whisky; that felt at one remove from the rather more familiar image of wartime London.

A Capital Union is a good effort, but just doesn't quite deliver on its promise. It skirts important issues and important conflicts without quite getting into enough depth. It could have been more focused on the identity of a nation; it could have been more focused on the identity of a person. In the event, it didn't quite manage either.
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MisterHobgoblin
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Location: Melbourne

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