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Scottish Authors: Dewar, Rush, Spark and Fraser

Updated on August 17, 2017

Rhanna Series- Christine Marion Fraser

My Auntie leant me this series of books along with others by the same author. The novels are set on the inhospitable Scottish isles (The Hebrides). They are largely about love and family, they are best described as sagas. Christine Marion Frasers' most popular was a series called Rhanna. Christine Marion Fraser was born and raised in the Govan area of Glasgow. The area is noted for being the epicentre of Scottish industry, famously of all ship building. Fraser's father was a worker in the shipyards. A childhood calcium deficiency left her wheelchair bound for the rest of her life. Christine Marion Fraser wrote autobiographical works and a latter series of books published in the late 90's. This series was called Kinvara, a total of four which were about lighthouse keepers lives on the islands. I have read these and will definitely write up a review of them in the future. In this review I will look at just her Rhanna series. She is an author I enjoy greatly, her books are great tales, with loveable characters and about the two cornerstones of family and love. Simple on the face but so rich in detail. I also enjoy the setting of her novels.

Within the Rhanna series there are a total of eight books. The first was published in 1978 and the final installment in 1996. This was the first series I read as an adult that I got properly lost in. Still to this day, a re-read of one of her novels (particularly one from this series) is like re-uniting with an old friend. The life on the Hebridian islands is tough, the community is strong and close knit. There are many laugh out loud moments but also many that are true to life. Felt that Fraser painted a fantastic picture with her words of what life would be like living on the Scottish isles. Having family from the Isle of Mull, I have heard many tales whilst attending family gatherings. I found some things in the book to be the same as what family had said, especially regarding habits and customs. Ultimately, the series is about life, all the occurrences that happen and the changes through time. The excitement of forbidden love is prevalent and the couple in question are the series central characters. The aspect of her writing, that stood out for me most was her characterisation. By the end of the series you really felt that you knew each intimately. Find that such a gift, that an author can do that. Not limited to this series either, Frasers' novels all have that feature. They are sheer escapism in book form.


Dancing in a Distant Place- Isla Dewar

I have my Mum to thank for introducing me to this fantastic author. You can get, so easily lost in her books and I love the way she writes. That she writes about Scotland is an added bonus. There is something very comforting about her novels. Dancing in a Distant Place is a great read. It is about love, family and friendship predominantly; with the rural eccentricities of small town life playing a big part. The story is about Iris, a teacher and Mother of two teenaged children. Her and their lives suddenly change when they are left with nothing. Iris decides to take a job in a small rural community, Green Cairns running the local primary school. An added draw of this is that the job comes with a house. Small town life is strange and the people living there even stranger. Overwhelmingly at first, until she gets to know them. Throughout the book you learn of the communities families and children, you get right into their lives. Iris puts massive effort into revolutionising the school and helping her pupils. She is a great teacher, helping her pupils come out of their shells and express themselves. She faces many challenges within the school and community. They are used to the school masters, (referred to in the book as a Missy) being older. Iris surprises many with her modern approach. As things come together with her pupils, her own children start to experience their own troubles. An excellent book that stays with you. I was brought up in a small town and found it very funny and accurate the way Dewar depicts life in one.


A Twelvemonth and a Day- Christopher Rush

"In childhood there is no distinction between, boy, bird, mammal or fish. A Twelvemonth and a Day is about change and growth, the fluctuating patterns in the worklife of a fishing and farming community."

The above is from the books blurb. It is of course, set in a farming and fishing community. This novel is now considered a classic. It is set in the East Neuk of Fife in the village the author was born in, St Monans. It is an autobiographical works, giving a rich account of his life within the community, the changes, demands and how it is more than a job- fishing, it is a lifestyle. The title Twelvemonth is an old word for year. The novel is split up into sections for each month of the calendar year. In each, the changes of the seasons are detailed and with that, what comes into season. Such as it being prime time for lobsters in August and fishing for herring in the winter. Rush, laments and wishes things could be as they used to be. With modern times fishing as an industry became just that- a business. Instead of being a way of life. Nowadays after many years of decline and struggle, fishing in Scotland is on its knees. The demise of such a vibrant and essential industry is incredibly sad. It is not only fishing but farming too that features in the novel. The people really made the most of the land. Fife is very rich and fertile, ideal for farming. Rush brings his childhood to life, it is a personal account. Enjoyable to read, a true reflection and oh so different to reading from a history book.

The biggest strength of this novel is the way it is written. Almost poetic, it is so descriptive. The language used is rich and vibrant. The descriptions are just wonderful, for example the school classroom being referred to as a polished coffin. Was no secret Rush felt claustrophobic and did not enjoy his time in education. The level of detail within, brings the story to life. That, it is a true life reflection, a living history is what I found to be most fascinating. I enjoyed simple aspects such as needing to go for the messages or the families bread order at the bakery. I love books about times gone by and books set in rural areas. Have an interest in the fishing industry and a great love of Fife, it is my very favourite place in Scotland. After reading the very first page, I just knew this was going to be a great read. Scots are renowned for their storytelling ability and Rush has this in abundance. That it is his own story makes it all the more captivating and alluring.


The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie- Muriel Spark

I have enjoyed Spark's works previously and had always thought her to be American due to her name. She was born in 1918, in Edinburgh. She had an interesting life, attending University, briefly teaching and worked in intelligence throughout the Second World War. Her novel "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie " is her most well known novel and is fairly short. The school within the novel is strongly modeled on the the all girls school which she attended herself. One of the central characters, Miss Jean Brodie herself is based on a particularly memorable teacher of Spark's. Published in 1961; it has since been developed into a film, television series and also theatre production, the former starring Dame Maggie Smith.

Reading reviews as I purchased this from Amazon, there were a fair few negative ones. I do agree that the novel is not a great story in that not very much happens. But, Spark's characters whilst not always being likeable were certainly very well formed. Slightly controversial and even more so with regard to the era the book was set. Miss Jean Brodie, a young and beautiful teacher. She decides to take six girls under her wing; to guide, educate and influence. She opens their eyes to a different world, at a very young age. Many of the things she does are very good, broadening the girls horizons such as taking them to exhibitions. However, Brodie has quite extreme views. The girls age and become aware of the wrongs of their influential teacher. The book is very funny in places, witty and well written. You follow the girls as they grow up and discover their sexuality. The latter is encouraged by Miss Brodie, she awakens them to this and most controversially of all she attempts to initiate a sexual affair between one of "her" girls and a fellow teacher. There is something extreme and unbalanced about Brodie which is hidden behind a veil of niceness and apparent care. It follows girls at a key stage of their life in which they are forced to mature too quickly. In the novel you read of the outcome, not only to the girls but Miss Brodie herself. I enjoyed reading this novel tremendously, I just wish that it could have been longer.


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