‘A Scots Quair is the story of Chris Guthrie from before the First World War to the Great Depression. The story of men and women who live on the land; of men who march away to war; of a strong woman who raises a hard son; of ‘Time’ and the ‘Land’ echoing in a woman’s soul.’
This is a trilogy consisting of three novels.
Sunset Song published in 1932
Cloud Howe in 1933
Grey Granite in 1934
I wasn’t sure if I should review each book individually or wait and do it as a whole, but I think each book is deserving of it’s own. Sunset Song is considered one of the most important Scottish books written in the 20th century and voted Scotland’s favorite book in 2005. This book has been on my shelf for quite a few years and I am so glad I finally got to it! I think it will be one of my all time favorites too.
Sunset Song is set in a fictional village in ‘The Mearns’, Kincardineshire, in the northeast of Scotland. Gibbons (James Leslie Mitchell) drew from his life in Arbuthnott for this tale of life set in the harsh Scottish farming landscape of the early 20th century.
Chris Guthrie is growing up in on a croft. Daughter of a farmer, a man who is intricately tie to the land. Land that yields barely a living for all the hard work you put in. Chris’ father is tough as nails and easy to anger. There is no love loss between him and his son Will. Chris is intelligent and loves learning and books. Her dream is to become a teacher and leave this harsh land and life behind. Her beloved mother, after the birth of twins (into a family of 4 children already) is weary and wore out and upon finding she is pregnant again commits suicide. With the loss of her mom, Chris puts her dreams on the shelf and slips into her mother’s role in the keeping of the farm. Her brother Will, finally finished with his father and his hatefulness and physical abuse, leaves the farm for good. Now even more is resting on Chris’ shoulders. She works along side her father in the fields as well as keeping the house. But when an accident paralyzes her father and puts him at death’s door she begins to dream again and plan her escape from this harsh life. But as they lower her father into the ground she is overcome with the truth of how hard her father had worked to support his family and of his straightforwardness and truth in-spite of his failings and finally weeps for him and his life. In this revelation she realizes how much she loves this land and that it is the blood that flows in her veins. She stays at the farm and marries and has a son. happier than she has ever been, she and Ewan work the farm together. Then the War comes and live in Kinraddie is forever changed. No one is left untouched.
Beautifully written! Gibbon is a master with words. The descriptions of the land, and sky and the people of Kinraddie are poetic. He transports you there. The people are wonderfully portrayed and beautifully quirky. It’s a gem and I love it! Can’t wait to see what life brings Chris now that the War is over.
Here’s a little of the wonderful writing in this book…
‘And out she went, though it wasn’t near kye-time yet, and wandered away over the fields; it was a cold and louring day, the sound of the sea came plain to her, as though heard in a shell, Kinraddie wilted under the greyness. In the ley field old Bod stood with his tail to the wind, his hair ruffled up by the wind, his head bent away from the smore of it. He heard her pass and gave a bit neigh, but he didn’t try to follow her, poor brute, he’s soon be over old for work. The wet fields squelched below her feet, oozing up their smell of red clay from under the sodden grasses, and up in the hills she saw the trail of the mist, great sailing shapes of it, going south on the wind into Forfar, past Laurencekirk they would sail, down the wide Howe with its sheltered glens and its late, drenched harvests, past Brechin smoking against its hill, with its ancient tower that the Pictish folk had reared, out of the Mearns, sailing and passing, sailing and passing, she minded Greek words of forgotten lessons – Nothing endures.
And then a queer thought came to her there in the drooked fields, that nothing endured at all, nothing but the land she passed across, tossed and turned and perpetually changed below the hands of the crofter folk since the oldest of them had set the Standing Stones by the loch of Blawearie and climbed there on their holy days and saw their terraced crops ride brave in the wind and sun. Sea and sky and the folk who wrote and fought and were learned, teaching and saying and praying, they lasted but as a breath, a mist of fog in the hills, but the land was forever, it moved and changed below you, but was forever, you were close to it and it to you, not at a bleak remove it held you and hurt you. And she had thought to leave it all!
She walked weeping then, stricken and frightened because of that knowledge that had come on her, she could never leave it, this life of toiling days and the needs of beasts and the smoke of wood fires and the air that stung your throat so acrid, Autumn and Spring, she was bound and held as though they had prisoned her here. And her fine bit plannings!-they’d been just the dreamings of a child over toys it lacked, toys that would never content it when it heard the smore of a storm or the cry of sheep on the moors or smelt the pringling smell of a new ploughed park under the drive of a coulter. She could no more teach a school than fly, night and day she’s want to be back, for all the fine clothes and gear she might get and hold, the books and the light and learning.
The kye were in sight then, they stood in the lithe of the freestone dyke that ebbed and flowed over the shoulder of the long ley field, and they hugged to it close from the drive of the wind, not heeding her as she came among them, the smell of their bodies foul in her face-foul and known and enduring as the land itself. Oh, she hated and loved in a breath! Even her love might hardly endure, but beside it the hate was no more than the whimpering and fear of a child that cowered from the wind in the lithe of its mother’s skirts.’
There is a glossary at the back of the book, which came in quite handy!
Hope you get a chance to read it!