A review in the Telegraph a few weeks ago made me think I would like Sputnik Caledonia by Andrew Crumey. Unfortunately, I was wrong, but that’s not to say it’s a bad book or an uninteresting one. Robbie is growing up in Glasgow in the 1960s in an old fashioned socialist household. He dreams not of being an astronaut but a cosmonaut, having been convinced by his father that Russian is Best. He lives mainly in his head (so far, so Black Swan Green) and part one ends with him hearing voices speaking to him from the ancient radiogram in his bedroom.
In part two, Robbie is nineteen, in the same physical spot but a parallel universe in which a 1946 revolution has established a Democratic Republic based on Marxist principles. Robbie has little recollection of his former life but is surrounded by people who are alternative versions of those he has known before. He has no idea what is going on (makes two of us) and is a willing guinea pig in an unbelievably cruel experiment. I found this very hard going, especially all the physics. Part three returns to the present in which a character known only as ‘the kid’ fantasises about Dr Who and is strangely connected to Robert’s family.
All this is very clever in its plotting connections and also, in a Nice Work sort of way, in its literary exploitation of Goethe. At the end though, I’m afraid my feeling was ‘So wot?’ and I was quite unmoved by it.
Also Scottish but very different is a children’s book, The Provost’s Jewel by Elisabeth Kyle, first published in 1950. Elisabeth Kyle is best known for her series of books about Peter and Margot Furze, which began with Visitors from England in 1941. In this book ten year old orphan Walter is allowed by his uncle to fend for himself for a while to prove that he is fit to move to New York. He leaves peaceful Port Angus for teeming Glasgow and, as is the way of such stories, foils some notorious jewel thieves. I found this less engaging than her other books but Glaswegians would love reading about the trams!
Finally, I’m now reading the latest Isabel Dalhousie novel, The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith. Some people say they like the lady detectives but can’t get into the Edinburgh books and others say just the opposite. I love Mma Ramotswe and I can’t get enough of Scotland Street; as far as I’m concerned it could go on and on forever. I’m less fond of Isabel and her so-called crime solving but I still enjoy reading about life in Edinburgh. Next up, something very English, I think.