Drunken Words & Sober Thoughts: A Review Of Craig A. Smith’s The Mile…
Perhaps the feeling is that the referendum, and by extension current Scottish politics, is too important to be dramatised. Surely the more important the subject the greater need for writers, and other artists, to do what they do best and deal with the situation in their work, more so than in political debates or in essays, as interesting and informative as those may be. I would suggest that it is too important not to.
Craig Smith’s novel The Mile is a rarity in that it deals head on with Scotland’s Referendum. While it is ostensibly a comic novel, with some laugh out loud moments, as well as presenting well observed characters, and scenes which will make any regular in a Scottish pub cringe in recognition, at its heart it is deadly serious. Smith wants to provoke debate, discussion, and inspire some real passion about next year’s vote.
The premise is simple; three friends from university meet up years later in 2014, a week before the historic day. Ian is a Yes man, who has organised this night with the ulterior motive of convincing his friends that his arguments are the correct ones. Euan feels the sensible option is to maintain the status quo of the United Kingdom, wary of change, and Stuart, who now lives in France, has other things on his mind and represents the ‘don’t cares’ as much as the ‘don’t know’s’.
The three start their night just outside Edinburgh Castle and prepare to hit the nearest pub, and the fear for the reader is that you are about to be hit over the head with prejudicial party politics as Ian prepares his arguments for the evening, but that is not the case. Events soon take over which puts his potential grandstanding on hold. The three soon make the acquaintance of Jock, an old soldier who ends up accompanying them on their odyssey. The arguments which unfold as these four musketeers roll down the Royal Mile are likely to be close to those repeated throughout pubs the length and breadth of the country as the 18th September, 2014, draws ever nearer. Smith has an ear for everyday language and the banter of the boozer, and nobody is allowed to take themselves too seriously for long.
All of the central characters have other things going on in their lives; relationships which are falling apart, worries over money, lies which they have told to themselves and to others. No one’s life has turned out exactly as they planned, but this night provides the impetus and opportunity for possible change. The addition of Jock to their party adds heart, soul and history to the night’s events, as he turns out to be inspirational not only in the amount of whisky he can put away, and how he can still handle himself despite his years, but in the questions he asks, which they have to answer for themselves; like an alcoholic Yoda.
As the night draws to an end, as with many nights such as this, things get emotional, but one of the biggest surprises is that the emotion is not a result of the alcohol, but is palpable on the page as the gang go in search of one last dram. By this point you are one of them, not overly caring who is right and who is wrong, just that you care for their future, whatever that holds. In the end, that is what The Mile asks of its readers, that they should care, for themselves and for others. That’s not too much to ask, is it?