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Volume 3 – Issue 2 – Gallimaufry – Scottish Review of Books
by Colin Waters
Lesley McDowell

Volume 3 – Issue 2 – Gallimaufry

October 26, 2009 | by Colin Waters
Lesley McDowell

Jungle Capitalists – A Story Of Globalisation, Greed And Revolution

Peter Chapman
pp220 ISBN 184195909X

The UK’s favourite fruit, the banana, tastes as sweet as its history is foul. At its height, the United Fruit Company, had a virtual monopoly on the growth and sales of bananas, a stranglehold that made them richer than the South American countries they grew their crops in. They bought up hundreds of acres of land, growing bananas in only a small proportion of their holdings, solely to keep competitors out of the business. When in 1954 Guatemala’s politicians promised to hand over unused land to peasants, United Fruit simply had the government removed, as they did in Honduras in 1911. For its own ends United Fruit largely authored South America’s notorious political instability (one is fascinated to learn the phrase ‘banana republic’ was coined by O. Henry). As Chapman reveals, United Fruit ran aground after the 1975 suicide of their CEO revealed their bribery of the Hon-duran military dictatorship, but not before popularising the knife-to-throat model of capitalism. The irony is that a commercial fixation with producing the same variety of banana globally has endangered the fruit. While pathogens have evolved, the banana has not been allowed to. Within the next decade the banana might become as extinct as United Fruit. Tremors Of Demons

Frederic Lindsay
pp296 ISBN 0749081430

There’s an oddness to Lindsay’s writing that prevents his detective novels being easily aligned with Rankin and the other exponents of Tartan Noir. Take Tremor Of Demons, for example, which starts, strangely, with DI Jim Meldrum, dreaming of covering his ex-wife in bread. You don’t get that on Taggart. Meldrum, the unhappiest of Scottish ‘tecs, finds himself working on a cult-related case. An old man’s murdered body is discovered. The victim was once a minister, although he walked out on his family. Partnered with an ambitious, openly disrespectful junior partner, Meldrum has more to concern him than capturing a messianic killer at work in Edinburgh. His depressed daughter is thinking of working in America, further collapsing what scant traces of family life he is privy to. Meldrum can solve deaths but not how to live. Not only are the Meldrum books unusually bleak for the genre, Meldrum himself is far from appealing. Frequently drunk as well as menacing, he’s a user of prostitutes. What lets Lindsay down are instances where his hardboiled style falls short, such as this one in which the ex-minister’s neglected body is discovered on the morning of Meldrum’s dream: “A dead man who has lain undiscovered for some weeks smells nothing like fresh bread.” Well, quite. Conversations With Scottish Writers No.1
Donald Campbell
pp36, ISBN 0954994175

Donald Campbell features in the first of a series of interviews with Scottish writers, at least if that No 1 is to be believed. John Herdman and Walter Perrie, writers themselves, record the interview in the form of an unadorned Q and A. Campbell reveals that he was taught at primary school by Nor-man MacCaig and at high school by Sorley Maclean, which you might have thought would have set him up for his future career as a poet and playwright. Campbell characterises his school days however as “total disaster”. He discovered literature through Sangschaw which he picked up while in detention. Sangschaw’s author makes an appearance in Campbell’s memories, confirming once more how a meeting with MacDiarmid was a rite of passage for that generation of poets. Giving his opinion on contemporary Scottish theatre, Camp-bell pronounces “It’s pretty much in a mess”. While one questions whether in fact this is the case, his forthrightness is in itself enjoyable. “I think it is unfortunate, to say the least, disgraceful that someone like Eddie Morgan is regarded as our greatest living poet.” Similarly he lambasts the Edinburgh International Book Festival for “a fatal confusion between cultural and commercial promotion”. Shadow Behind The Sun

Remzije Sherifi & Robert Davidson
pp256 ISBN 1905207131

Looking at Thomas Faed’s The Last Of The Clan, Remzije Sherifi thinks, “I recognise the truth in the painting”. A refugee living in Glasgow, Sherifi and her family were forced in 1999 to flee their native Kosovo for their lives. Her excellent biography clearly delineates the febrile politics and culture of her birthplace, no mean feat when you consider the various nationalities resident there have histories as tangled as they are bloody. Her own ethnic group, the Albanians, the largest within Kosovo, fell foul of Milosevic’s power-play. Sherifi grew up hearing her grandparents’ stories of Serbian attacks on Albanians but had only ever known good relations with her Serb neighbours. “These things could happen, had happened, but surely not in our place and time.” But they did. Albanians are forced out of the police and education. Trucks roll into town handing out guns to Serbs. After the first NATO strike against Serbia, a shopkeeper tells her, “Nothing for you, Albanian. Clinton can feed you”. As if she didn’t have enough woe, Sherifi was also fighting breast cancer, and at a time of medical shortages too. A copy of Shadow Behind The Sun should be sent to every Daily Mail reader.

The Lying Tongue

Andrew Wilson
pp324 ISBN 9781841959412

Given that Andrew Wilson came to prominence with a superlative biography of Patricia Highsmith four years ago, one would have to suppose this debut novel is intended as an homage to his subject’s work rather than a downright rip-off. Because the Highsmith markers – unreliable narrator, questionable sexual behaviour, murderous pathologies, the exotic location – are all replicated here, with Wilson’s central character, Adam Woods, pretty much a dead ringer for Highsmith’s Tom Ripley. Wilson’s story revolves around the ‘stealing’ of a life by a biographer, so perhaps he is making some witty comment on his own novelistic ‘homage’; once the biographer of Highsmith, now what? A propagator of her legacy? If so, something better than standard thriller fare is required. The first few pages are unconvincing, reading more like a travelogue, but Wilson does pick up the pace and stays with it throughout. However, the portrayal of his two main characters, Woods and Gordon Crace, the reclusive writer for whom Woods goes to work and then decides to betray, never really goes deep enough. The prose is adequate but not startling.

A Scent of Bluebells

Meg Henderson
pp416 ISBN 000719661X

Meg Henderson is not a writer to give her readers nasty surprises, and that is possibly the key to her popularity. In this instance, we have a double story linked to one woman: Auld Nally, whose real name is Alice, a moneylender in Inchcraig, a rough part of Glasgow, just a few years after the war. She has a son Matt and a daughter Beth, who is deaf, but it is her back story that will explain how she came to be who she is today: a bitter, frustrated, even feared middle-aged woman. Once upon a time she was a young girl in Belfast in love with a man whose family didn’t think she was good enough for him. Henderson’s style is chatty – in her books, even hard-working men say things like “Where would any of us be if we’d followed our dreams?” and have the kind of full emotional lives we normally associate with women. Even her Acknowledge ments runs to three pages. As a kind of Scottish Catherine Cook-son, Henderson does the job pretty well.

Dear Laura: Letters From A Mother To A Daughter

Laura Hird
pp242 ISBN 1841958999

How can anyone possibly critique a book that includes letters from a now-dead and much loved mother to her daughter, and from whose proceeds a percentage goes to charity? Any negative comments could only be churlish and uncharitable. So the worst that can be said is, I’m not sure how convinced I am by this project. There is certainly a precedent for publishing letters exploring the mother-daughter bond (Virago has several such titles on its list), and June Hird comes across as a fussy, loving, generous, bright, articulate woman who, like so many before her, never had the chance really to show the world what she could do, and came to rely on her daughter doing it for her. June Hird misses her daughter while she is away at university and sends her clothes, advises her to keep warm, eat the right things, study hard, not be too distracted by boys and going out. But all of these letters, and these thoughts and feelings, might have worked better as part of a much larger project – something on Scottish women writers and their relationships with their mothers perhaps. As touching as this volume is, it does feel slight.

Women of the Highlands

Katharine Stewart
pp160 ISBN 1905222742

This is an uncomplicated look at history, the kind of take on historical continuity that reassures and comforts, rather than disturbs or unsettles. Stewart presents an account of various famous and not-so-famous Highland women, from Flora MacDonald to Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus, from Mairi MacLeod to Anne Grant of Laggan, as well as of female customs and habits (largely set around marriage and childbirth, but also to do with work). Stewart doesn’t uncover much new material on MacDonald, whose life in America, subsequent to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape, is familiar territory by now, but she does have an interesting chapter on the ‘Rebel Women’ of 1745. I would like to hear more about Jenny Cameron who “raised 300 men and led them to Glen-finnan”. How did she get the men to follow her? Did she actually fight in battle? Some of Stewart’s other material (on witch-hunts, to give an example) also suffers from over-familiarity. But her over-riding argument – that the women of the Highlands contributed just as much to the culture of the region as well as to its survival as its menfolk did – is hard to refute.Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife

Mary Roach

pp228 ISBN 184195845X

Trying to discover what happens to our souls after we die leads Mary Roach into some rather odd territory, although not, it has to be said, quite as odd as one might expect. Yes, we have the believers in Spiritualism and the Hindu notion of reincarnation. But more interestingly, there is Gerry Nahum, a professor at Duke University with degrees in chemical engineering, thermodynamics and information theory, who is convinced that the energy that constitutes the human soul cannot simply disappear: “It has to go somewhere”. He has predecessors. In the Twenties and Thirties scientists who attempted to prove the human ability to ‘perceive’ the soul as some kind of physical entity were not “perceived as fringe scientists”. Roach reveals that “for a significant number of years, paranormal research was an accepted undertaking among respectable scientists”. This is the kind of science anyone can understand, and Roach’s sometimes cynical, often funny, take on her search (she is subjected to a ‘reading’ by Allison DuBois, who even has an Emmy award-winning show, Medium, starring Patricia Arquette, based on her talents) manages to surprise her as well as her readers.

From this Issue

Bridge Builder

by Douglas Gifford

Oh Scotland!

by George Rosie

Serious Characters

by Alan Riach

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