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Wonderful compelling story - Maggie Craig has captured the heart of Glasgow
on 27 March 2015
I have been so lucky recently to have had a variety of lovely books to devour not least of which was this delightfully real, sometimes poignantly sad, but ultimately beautiful, tale of Glasgow and its inhabitants. Set mainly during the Depression and WWII, it journeys through eight decades of the life and loves of Kathleen Cameron or Kate as she is mostly known. Her life is alternately joyous and heartbreaking yet still she triumphs.
The story begins in 1924 when Kate Cameron is 16, she lives in a Glasgow tenement with her Father Neil, Mother Lily, sisters Jessie and Pearl and little brother Davy. The family is poor but fiercely proud, amongst other families sharing the same house are the Baxters, Robbie being the most prominent as he has loved Kate and will continue to love her through many trials and tribulations. The two families share everything, their happiness, sorrows, even their baking and crockery when needs must. Ms. Craig describes how they prepare for Hogmanay, the scrubbing and cleaning, the first footing of a tall dark man with a lump of coal and black bun and then the hooting of the ships on The Clyde. All of this I have heard from my own Mother, a Glaswegian by birth, therefore close to my heart.
Kate is a talented young women, still at school at the age of 16, unusual for the time, but it is her Father's desire to see his favourite child continue with her schooling. Kate's ambition is to attend the Glasgow School of Art - designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh - one of the many facts thrown in by Maggie Craig to set the scene and stimulate the senses. For anyone unfamiliar with Glasgow this is a beautiful iconic building in the Art Nouveau style. Then Kate's Father is laid off work at the shipyard Donaldson's along with a large proportion of the workforce of Glasgow. The Great Depression has begun, Kate is finally forced to leave school by her shrewish Mother and made to look for work to supplement the families meagre income. She is fortunate enough to have the support of two of her former school teachers who recommend her for an apprenticeship as a tracer at Donaldson's. Two years into this her fairy godmothers help further by pulling strings to obtain a bursary to the School of Art which she attends as a part time student and there becomes friends with Marjorie Donaldson, daughter of her employer. Fellow student Jack Drummond, upperclass, handsome, elegant, languid, idle, cynical, and friend of Marjorie, begins a charm offensive on Kate, his intentions are not honourable, unbeknown to Kate he has aspirations of marrying Marjorie for her money. Eventually after plying Kate with champagne at a lunch given at his home, he takes advantage of her infatuation but leaves her without a backward glance. Kate discovers that he has become engaged to Marjorie and then that she herself is pregnant. Faced with the choice of an abortion or tricking the honourable Robbie into marriage, she chooses the latter, and begins her deceitful secret life with an adoring Robbie. Grace is born, to all intents and purposes a premature baby, and Robbie is in raptures over his daughter.
Robbie Baxter is the epitome of the dark, brooding, honourable hero. He worships Kate and their child and although Kate is grateful to him she does not believe she loves him. It takes a visit a few years into their marriage, from Marjorie and Jack, to show her what a fool she has been, and it is then she realises how much she loves Robbie and he at last has the love and devotion of his 'nut-brown maiden' as he has always called her.
Maggie Craig has absolutely captured the poverty, lives and loves of the people of Glasgow, she has a rare talent for understanding, a real sense of place and time. The hopelessness of The Great Depression with the proud, brave men of Glasgow traipsing from one place to another in search of work. The horror of the war, both for the families and the men sent to fight, but also the utter devastation of the bombs being aimed at the shipyards, often missing and wiping out whole streets and families. I had a tear in my eye on more than one occasion during this beautiful, turbulent story. As usual, where possible with a Maggie Craig novel, I will listen to the audio version where one is available, as she always employs the talented, versatile Scottish narrator, Leslie Mackie who is so in tune with Ms. Craig's sensitive story telling. Ms. Mackie's beautifully modulated tones capture the feisty, fiercely independent Kate, the languid, slightly bored tones of Jack Drummond, the softly spoken Neil Cameron with his gentle highland lilt and then there is the darling Robbie Baxter, who couldn't love this wonderful, dignified man so perfectly characterised by the clever Maggie Craig? Ms. Mackie employs a slightly deeper melodious tone for him, the image of this darkly beautiful, decent man so expertly conjured up by this gifted actress. Even the excited childish voice of wee Grace when her Father comes home - perfect. The epilogue is enchanting too, a magnificent feast of a story with a fitting and moving ending. Maggie Craig's love for her City and people is apparent in the care and thought she has poured into this wonderful tale of triumph over adversity. I will definitely be reading/listening to the rest of this wonderful, compelling series.