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One of Life's Little Gems
on 10 August 2012
Edinburgh, the city of my own birth and upbringing, is the setting of John Robertson Nicoll's poetic, moving, haunting, and poignantly comic novella. Not, however, the cultural Edinburgh that the chattering classes delight in hijacking at Festival time; nor Old Town Edinburgh, steeped in history and swarming with tourists. This is New Town Edinburgh, though Buster, the dishevelled and enigmatic central character, experiences only rejection in its fashionable quarters. A loner among loners, he takes his potentially catastrophic place alongside other lodgers in a faded New Town back street.
Loneliness is, indeed, the characteristic common to Buster and those around him. Each is locked into his or her private world of misunderstandings or fruitless relationships. Set in gregarious Glasgow, so welcoming of strangers, a story like this would reek of inauthenticity; set in the Edinburgh of approximately a quarter of a century ago, it captures that city's often reserved and sometimes downright unwelcoming spirit, frequently parodied in the infamous doorstep greeting, `you'll have had your tea' - more statement than question!
John Robertson Nicoll has authored a gem, to which I know I shall return again and again. If loneliness is its central theme, Buster takes his leave of Edinburgh in a spirit of hope: "He felt brave now and certain that the world would soon be turning his way again." Hardly likely, we realise by now, but as the novella closes we find another of its lonely characters happily resigned to making the most, literally or metaphorically, of life's "little gems.... In this way she could keep loneliness at bay forever." This novella is, indeed, one of life's `little gems'. Set aside a couple of hours and discover this fact for yourself!