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on 8 January 2015
Typically, novels about growing up are episodic. ‘Young Art and Old Hector’ is straightforwardly so. In each chapter, with a single exception, Gunn focuses on a particular experience of an eight year old boy. The exception features the experience of an older brother. ‘Young’ Art’s experiences are gender-specific and particular to a historical time and geographical place. Equally they are universal: the inter-relationships of brothers and sisters; an encounter with a member of the opposite sex; the difficulties in keeping a great secret from one’s peers, etc.

Naomi Mitchison, a critic, fellow-novelist and friend of Gunn found the novel over-sentimental. That criticism is negated by Art’s dominant character trait for much of ‘Young Art and Old Hector’. Art is scared stiff till almost the end of the novel and sentimentality seldom accompanies fear. Psychologically, Art’s fear rings true. Wouldn’t any eight year old feel scared when his father and oldest brother are off to the herring fishing in the North Sea, their safe return not guaranteed? Wouldn’t any young lad be afraid when he thinks he has hexed his newly born brother? Essentially, Art is scared because he doesn’t know where he ‘fits’ in his own family, the local community and the wider world. It is Old Hector who assuages Art’s fears and assumes the role of Art’s guide and mentor. By the end of the novel, Hector has become Art’s model. Out walking, Hector tells Art that the old man knows every corner of the land. ‘That’s a lot to know’, says Art. ‘It’s not the size of the knowing that matters, I think’, says Hector, ‘it’s the kind of the knowing’. Hector will hand over to Art all that the old man knows. Then Art alone will know the names of the places and, ‘some day in a long time’, will tell someone in his turn. ‘If I thought you would do that,’ says Hector, ‘I would be happy. ‘You can trust me’, affirms Art. It’s that great theme of Gunn’s: life carries on.

A reader could go far before reading a better novel about a boy ‘growing up’. ‘Young Art and Old Hector’ is straightforward in structure yet profound in meaning. Gunn handles the relationship between the young boy and old man with huge insight. There is no ‘generation-gap’ polarity here, only fellow beings on the same journey of self-understanding. Any reader who appreciates ‘Young Art and ‘Old Hector’ should read ‘Morning Tide’, Gunn’s other great novel of growing up. Those who have relished the characters of Art and Hector can follow their further adventures in ’The Green Isle of the Great Deep’, Gunn’s acerbic critique of totalitarianism, in part written as a riposte to Naomi Mitchison.

Stewart Robertson
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on 5 October 2014
Typically, novels about growing up are episodic. ‘Young Art and Old Hector’ is straightforwardly so. In each chapter, with a single exception, Gunn focuses on a particular experience of an eight year old boy. The exception features the experience of an older brother. ‘Young’ Art’s experiences are gender-specific and particular to a historical time and geographical place. Equally they are universal: the inter-relationships of brothers and sisters; an encounter with a member of the opposite sex; the difficulties in keeping a great secret from one’s peers, etc.

Naomi Mitchison, a critic, fellow-novelist and friend of Gunn found the novel over-sentimental. That criticism is negated by Art’s dominant character trait for much of ‘Young Art and Old Hector’. Art is scared stiff till almost the end of the novel and sentimentality seldom accompanies fear. Psychologically, Art’s fear rings true. Wouldn’t any eight year old feel scared when his father and oldest brother are off to the herring fishing in the North Sea, their safe return not guaranteed? Wouldn’t any young lad be afraid when he thinks he has hexed his newly born brother? Essentially, Art is scared because he doesn’t know where he ‘fits’ in his own family, the local community and the wider world. It is Old Hector who assuages Art’s fears and assumes the role of Art’s guide and mentor. By the end of the novel, Hector has become Art’s model. Out walking, Hector tells Art that the old man knows every corner of the land. ‘That’s a lot to know’, says Art. ‘It’s not the size of the knowing that matters, I think’, says Hector, ‘it’s the kind of the knowing’. Hector will hand over to Art all that the old man knows. Then Art alone will know the names of the places and, ‘some day in a long time’, will tell someone in his turn. ‘If I thought you would do that,’ says Hector, ‘I would be happy. ‘You can trust me’, affirms Art. It’s that great theme of Gunn’s: life carries on.

A reader could go far before reading a better novel about a boy ‘growing up’. ‘Young Art and Old Hector’ is straightforward in structure yet profound in meaning. Gunn handles the relationship between the young boy and old man with huge insight. There is no ‘generation-gap’ polarity here, only fellow beings on the same journey of self-understanding. Any reader who appreciates ‘Young Art and ‘Old Hector’ should read ‘Morning Tide’, Gunn’s other great novel of growing up. Those who have relished the characters of Art and Hector can follow their further adventures in ’The Green Isle of the Great Deep’, Gunn’s acerbic critique of totalitarianism, in part written as a riposte to Naomi Mitchison.

Stewart Robertson
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on 7 November 2006
Neil Gunn was a highly gifted Scottish writer whose work deserves to be far better known, and this would be a good introduction to his novels.
It describes the warm and innocent relationship between the eight year-old Art, youngest child in a simple crofting family in the far north of Scotland, and Old Hector, a widowed grandfather of great wisdom and understanding. When family crises deny Art the attention and warmth he needs, Hector is always there to offer understanding and support, and to help the boy explore the riches of his environment. Through this relationship, we too begin to explore the history of Caithness and Sutherland, enjoy the fresh beauty of the region's rugged landscape, and thrill to the brushes with the local law as the poor crofters seek to ease their way through life by snaring rabbits, poaching salmon and distilling their own whisky.
My only reservation concerns the characterization of Art, whose frequent tears and foot-stamping seem to put him two years short of his stated age.
This apart, the portrayal of boyhood in the first decades of the twentieth century is entertaining, thought-provoking and full of insight.
As the story closes, Art and Hector are on their way to gain the boy's first sighting of the fabled spactacle, The River, and in a sequel, "The Green Isle of the Great Deep", Gunn takes up the narrative but uses it as a framework to create a highly imaginative satire on the totalitarian regimes which were appearing on the world stage at this time.
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on 20 March 2015
Heartwarming, a tale of a young boy and his mentor, Old Hector. A thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining read - I was sorry to cone to the last page. This is a book I will return to again and again.
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on 5 August 2012
You have to read the first few paragraphs out loud to get the Doric prose - it's poetry. What a book!
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on 13 December 2015
Delivered very quickly, Love this book.
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on 14 September 2014
very good
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