The Good Word: Scots Whay Hae!’s 10 Best Books Of 2018 (+1)…
These are the publications which stood out against the stiffest competition in 2018, consisting of four new novels, three short fiction collections, the conclusion of a soul music and civil rights trilogy, a book of spell poetry, a history of Scottish pop, plus our bonus entry – a re-issue of a modern Scottish classic.
They will transport you to Harlem, Lewis, Bangour, and post-war America, with detours to Orkney, the Scottish Borders, Edinburgh, Paris, Moscow past and present, and through the looking-glass, along the way. Taken as a whole they are a testament to the artistic diversity and cultural imagination at large in Scotland today and proof that Scottish writing is in fine fettle indeed. Need further convincing? Here’s what we thought at the time:
These stories are intensely sensual but also visceral, and are often uncomfortable as a result – there’s blood, sweat and tears on these pages. They do what the best writing should, making you face your own truths, and asks questions to which you may not like the answers.
Mayhem & Death is published by 404 Ink. You can hear Helen McClory in conversation on the SWH! podcast from April 2018.
It’s not a novel which asks for sympathy, but one which offers empathy, in a manner not dissimilar to Ron Butlin’s Ghost Moon. If you are already aware of Alison Moore’s writing, (her first novel The Lighthouse made the Man Booker shortlist in 2012 and she has had many other accolades) the quality of Missing will not surprise you, but if you aren’t then be prepared to be knocked out.
Although there are other Scottish novels which come to mind, such as Kevin McNeill’s The Brilliant & Forever, Alice Thompson’s Burnt Island, and Graham Lironi’s Oh, Marina Girl, M.J. Nicholls is doing something which feels and reads as new and exciting. If you love books then The 1002nd Book To Read Before You Die is one to read, before it’s too late.
Where the book works best is as an extensive overall look at something close to our hearts and always on our minds. This review could have been a book in itself as every page of Rip It Up has information I want to discuss and share with you. This is partly because it’s a subject I love deeply, partly because Galloway’s passion is infectious, but mainly because it’s a fascinating story well written, and what more could you want from any book? Rip It Up: The Story Of Scottish Pop – every home should have one.
With As The Women Lay Dreaming Donald S. Murray has pulled off a similar feat. It not only brings to life the disaster of the Iolaire, but also a place and its people over two periods of time, using personal and individual stories to examine wider themes. This is a novel which reveals new layers with every reading. It is history brought to life through fiction, and when it is done in a manner as moving and beautiful as this it is invaluable.
As The Women Lay Dreaming is published by Saraband Books You can hear Donald S. Murray talking to Ali on the SWH! Podcast.
With HWFG he proves that Hings was no one-off, but only the beginning for a writer who appears to have found his voice immediately. It also shows evidence that he is growing more confident in his craft, often addressing the reader directly, making for a more immersive read. After two superb short fiction collections I can’t wait to see what he does next – no pressure! And to those who remain unsure, have no fear – Chris McQueer is the real deal.
Saltire Fiction Book Of The Year may see that change. There are a couple of comparisons with other authors who have appeared on these pages I could offer in terms of style and substance; David Keenan and M.J. Nicholls are the two who spring to mind – but if I’m being truthful Andrew Crumey stands alone.
If you haven’t read his work before then I think The Great Chain Of Unbeing an ideal place to start. All his books can be read on different levels, but that applies to this one more than most while still giving you the full Crumey experience. Put simply, he makes you think. More than that he challenges you to think, and that’s what a great writer should do. We all need a challenge, otherwise what’s the point?
I was wondering how he was going to wrap things up before the close of this third act, and he does so by looking to the future, linking events and individuals to people, places, and music from the next five decades which only reinforces his central thesis that these are three years which shaped America, and shook the world, musically and politically. All the issues that Cosgrove touches upon, in this volume especially, are still felt keenly, and there is a sense that he views 1969 as a year zero for America – socially, politically, and culturally – and things would never be the same again.
The best poetry collections take hold in a manner similar to favourite albums in that you are compelled to return again and again, finding something new each time while also taking comfort in growing familiarity and significance. There’s A Witch In The Word Machine is highly personal, yet its themes are universal, and no other book captured the cultural spirit of 2018 as it has.
There’s A Witch In The Word Machine is published by Polygon Books * A version of this review first appeared in The Bottle Imp’s Best Scottish Books of 2018
The Sound Of My Voice remains “The Greatest Scottish Novel You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of”, but now you have and I hope I have convinced you that it is essential reading. Returning to it after seven years only confirms my feelings that, after all the Scottish novels I’ve reviewed on these pages and elsewhere, if I had only one to recommend to you The Sound Of My Voice is it.
2018 really was a strong year, with Helen Taylor’s The Backstreets of Purgatory, Douglas Skelton’s The Janus Run, Mandy Haggith’s The Walrus Mutterer, Robin Robertson’s The Long Take and Daniel Shand’s Crocodile just missing out, but you should click on those names, read their reviews and seek them out all the same. 2019 has a lot to live up to…
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