Hame is a satirical takedown of romanticised Scotticism with its bards, bagpipes, and tartan trews.
The basic premise is that Mhairi McPhail, a Scot by birth but with a New York accent, is returning to her homeland to establish a museum on the Isle of Fascaray dedicated to the Isle's famous son, the poet Grigor McWatt. The novel is made up from interleaved sections of Mhairi's diary, her published work A Granite Ballad - The Reimagining of Grigor McWatt, various essays and writings of McWatt from published sources, and McWatt's poems. Together they make up the story of McWatt, compared and contrasted to the experience of Mhairi as an incomer. But they also paint a portrait of a Scottish island community; of the Scots arts and literature community; of Gaelic and Scots; of Scotland as a whole.
The result is hilarious. As real islanders worry about the weather and fuel supplies; shopping trips to the mainland; how to get seven days' work done in six - McWatt and those like him spend their time banging out doggerel poetry in a mish-mash of Scottish dialects purporting to be a language; pontificate on the decline of traditional values; and drinking in the comfort of bars in Edinburgh's New Town.
Fascaray itself is a fictional island, but much of it bears a close resemblance to Lewis, with a fair dose of the Inner Hebrides thrown in (especially Islay and Jura) and even the odd nod to the St Kilda archipelago. The issues feel authentic: the tension between preserving the natural beauty and exploiting natural resources; the tensions between the faiths; and the quest to curate/create a visitor attraction that will bring the tourists rolling in. Some of the events are real: the annual guga hunt is a real thing in Ness; the threat of offshore wind farms (and onshore wind farms) have divided real island communities; islanders really have protested against the establishment of Sunday ferry crossings; and the Morvern peninsula really is being slowly excavated.
The literary angle to Hame also rings true. In small communities across Scotland, poets and writers are local legends despite the dubious quality of their works. Their works are published by small presses that survive on arts council subsidies, sold in souvenir shops and read by nobody. The writers augment their earnings by penning diaries and editorials for local newspapers. McWatt was a mainstay of the Auchwinnie Pibroch - his opinions given credence because of his fame, and his fame deriving from giving opinions. McWatt's poems are truly terrible: translations of great works into Scots dialect. The typical reader is unlikely to understand all of the verse - the dialect is too obscure - but will understand enough to see how the metre and the imagery have been ripped away from the original poems. And please don't be tempted to translate the verse back into English as that would be just as pointless as McWatt's original translation. The whole Scots dialect thing is paraded for comic effect; we can imagine arty Glaswegians professing to understand all the Scots because it is their language (and requires less effort to learn than the real language of Gaelic), yet failing to agree with each other about what the words actually mean.
Hame is an absolute gem of a work; relatively long and at risk in the early sections of not having enough of a story to hang together. But as the book builds momentum, so the stories build and the multiple strands come together. The ending - the twist - is perfectly predictable but no less funny for its obviousness. It is rare to coe across a book with quite so much going on and for it all to land.
By robert eggleton
Following is the most recent review published on the named blog (reprinted by permission).
A Universe On the Edge RARITY FROM THE HOLLOW. Robert Eggleton. Doghorn Publishing. Published 2012.
Lacy Dawn is a little girl who lives in a magical forest where all the trees love her and she has a space alien friend who adores her and wants to make her queen of the universe. What’s more, all the boys admire her for her beauty and brains. Mommy is very beautiful and Daddy is very smart, and Daddy’s boss loves them all.
Lacy Dawn, the eleven year old protagonist, perches precariously between the psychosis of childhood and the multiple neuroses of adolescence, buffeted by powerful gusts of budding sexuality and infused with a yearning to escape the grim and brutal life of a rural Appalachian existence. In this world, Daddy is a drunk with severe PTSD, and Mommy is an insecure wraith. The boss is a dodgy lecher, not above leering at the flat chest of an eleven-year-old girl.
Yes, all in one book.
Rarity From The Hollow is written in a simple declarative style that’s well- suited to the imaginary diary of a desperate but intelligent eleven-year-old – the story bumping joyfully between the extraordinary and the banal.
The central planet of the universe is a vast shopping mall, and Lacy Dawn must save her world from a menace that arrives in the form of a cockroach infestation. Look again and the space alien has made Daddy smart and happy – or at least an eleven year old girl’s notion of what a smart and happy man should be. He has also made Mommy beautiful, giving her false teeth and getting the food stamp lady off her back.
About the only thing in the book that is believable is the nature of the narrative voice, and it is utterly compelling. You find yourself convinced that “Hollow” was written as a diary-based autobiography by a young girl and the banal stems from the limits of her environment, the extraordinary from her megalomania. And that’s what gives Rarity From The Hollow a chilling, engaging verisimilitude that deftly feeds on both the utter absurdity of the characters’ motivations and on the progression of the plot.
Indeed, there are moments of utter darkness: In one sequence, Lacy Dawn remarks matter-of-factly that a classmate was whipped to death, and notes that the assailant, the girl’s father, had to change his underpants afterward because they were soiled with semen. Odd, and often chilling notes, abound.
As I was reading it, I remembered when I first read Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle” at the age of 14. A veteran of Swift, Heller, and Frederick Brown, I understood absurdist humour in satire, but Vonnegut took that understanding and turned it on its ear.
In the spirit of Vonnegut, Eggleton (a psychotherapist focused on the adolescent patient) takes the genre and gives it another quarter turn. A lot of people hated Vonnegut, saying he didn’t know the rules of good writing. But that wasn’t true. Vonnegut knew the rules quite well, he just chose to ignore them, and that is what is happening in Eggleton’s novel, as well.
Not everyone will like Rarity From The Hollow. Nonetheless, it should not be ignored.
by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
By Tom Evans
I've been following the parody of Prince Charles on Twitter for a while now, and he's hilarious!
His first book is being released this Thursday, but I luckily managed to buy a copy from Waterstones over the weekend.
Highly recomended. Very satirical and funny, especially if you love the British Royal Family.
OR you can read the official announcement on his website, available electronically too.
Percentages - An Occupy Story
I'd be selling it, but I can't afford to pay my poverty fees.
Summary and download link:
G. K. Chesterton’s ‘The Napolean of Notting Hill’ was one of those free books that I downloaded in the first enthusiastic flush of having a Kindle. I enjoyed ‘A Man called Thursday’ a while back so decided to give this a go. For me, it didn’t measure up to ‘A Man Called Thursday’ but it has its place in time.
Written in 1904, Chesterton set the book in the future, in 1984. He is reputed to have given George Orwell (Eric Blair) a break by publishing an essay in in his magazine. Most of us are familiar with Orwell’s 1984. Chesterton’s future, though, includes no major technological differences and life on the surface seems very much the same as his own in 1904, but there are political and sociological differences. Chesterton ridicules the politics and philosophies of his time by exaggerating them, showing the absurdity of their extremes.
People have not changed, but in some respects they have given in. Democracy has not been attained and most have given up trying for it. Government is run smoothly by the middle and upper classes without any disruptions from party politics or elections and most of the population are indifferent to it all. The monarchy is no longer hereditary, but a king as still necessary, as a figurehead, to get legislation through. He is chosen randomly from the people.
Life is mostly peaceful, respectable, boring, dull and apathetic and anyone with a little colour to them stands out. Auberon Quin is one of these. He longs to break free and have fun, just to have a laugh. Then, just as he starts to do this, a new king is chosen and life changes for a large part of London, not least a redefining of the place-names.
There are several battles, but, although they are bloody and people die, they are not really gory, they read more like play scripts, including a few Shakespearian-type speeches or campaign notes, dealing with strategy rather than feelings, emotion and pain. There is a map in the book, but it wasn’t very clear on my kindle so I looked it up on computer several times.
Chesterton writes eloquently and his prose flows making the reading a pleasure. I enjoyed the humour and I liked the absurdity of the whole thing. In the past I have read that he wrote in paradoxes and I have also read that that statement belittles Chesterton’s thinking. I haven’t studied him enough to know, but I did find that he set me thinking in paradoxes. For example, I usually hold that I don’t support patriotism or regionalism and nationalism on the grounds that they foster arguments and wars and indeed we see a microcosm of this in the book, but then I do support free thinking and free speech and if that had to be sacrificed to get peace. Would I be looking for new colour in the grey world?
Interestingly there are no women as main characters in the book.
Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’ acknowledges Chesterton as an influence by opening with a quotation from ‘The Napolean of Notting Hill’. He too has a London shaped by place-names and gives a social comment of his own.