O Caledonia

by Elspeth Barker – 1991

At the bottom of a great stone staircase, dressed in her mother’s black lace evening dress, twisted in murderous death, lies Janet. So end the sixteen years of Janet’s short life.

A life spent in a droughty Scottish Castle, where roses will not grow, and a jackdaw decides to live in the doll’s house.

A life peopled by prettier, smoother-haired siblings, a many with a face like the North Sea and the peculiar, whisky-swigging Cousin Lila

A life where Janet is perpetually misunderstood – and must turn from people, to animals, to books, to her own wild and wonderful imagination.


The ‘praises’ for this book and Maggie O’Farrell’s introduction really had me excited about this book! And Ms. Barker’s way with words is nice…

‘Winter descended on the glen; in mid-October came the first thin fall of snow, gone an hour later in the wet wind. the deer ventured down from the hills at dusk, tawny owls shrieked as they hunted through the darkness and shooting stars fled across the night sky. Leafless, the beeches and ashes shivered; the grass was parched with cold; pine and monkey-puzzle stood black and dominant. Only the red earth of the hill tracks retained its color; the puddles looked like pools of blood.

Of all the seasons this was the one Janet loved most.’

But the story was so mean! I just couldn’t like it. At all. Poor Janet. Maybe I missed something vital, but I found no satisfaction in this reading of any kind. Have any of you read it? Can you shine some light on what I missed?

On to something I’m sure I’ll like, a Janet McNeill book, The Maiden Dinosaur.

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