The Drinking Well Paperback – 2 Oct 2006
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Modern Scottish fiction reaches its highest peak in the novels of Neil M. Gunn . . . he transcends regionalism and acquires universality. --The Scotsman
A brilliant novelist --Lewis Grassic Gibbon
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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The novel is in four parts. In Part 1, ‘At Home’, Gunn sensitively articulates the nuances in the inter-relationship between the teenage Iain, a ‘remarkable’ mother and his father, a tenant sheep-farmer. Cattanach senior knows about sheep ‘with the understanding but objective regard a doctor has for his patient’ but is struggling; bad times have ‘pierced like rusty nails’. Iain intends a future helping his father. Mrs. Cattanach has already put sons through University and has similar hopes for Iain, whatever son or husband may feel. In the interview between this proud woman and Major Grant, the factor, to whom she turns for help, Gunn catches the obligation on both sides: the major feels responsibility for the laird’s tenants and, in Iain’s name, his mother indicates that her son will not let the major down. What happens subsequently and before Iain leaves for Edinburgh, Gunn describes in grippingly taut prose. Ian embarks on a reckless and almost life-wrecking poaching expedition in the Rock Pool only two hundred yards below the factor’s house. There is real drama here, not least as the action is sandwiched between events at the village ceilidh attended by Findlay, the gamekeeper, and at which Iain, with his fiddle, is the star turn.
The novel is much less successful when Iain goes to Edinburgh. Gunn is good on the squalour of Iain’s ‘digs’ but can’t capture the essence of Scotland’s capital in the way he does for his native Caithness.Read more ›