Glitter of Mica by Jessie Kesson

Glitter of Mica cover

Glitter of Mica by the Scottish author Jessie Kesson was first published in 1963. Previously I’ve read Another Time Another Place and The White Bird Passes and I enjoyed those ones but I didn’t like this one nearly as much.

The setting is rural Aberdeenshire in the north-east of Scotland, the parish of Caldwell and the book begins in the 1930s. Hugh Riddell is a farm worker who is never kept on after his year of contracted work is up, which means that every year he has to find a new job in the area at a different farm. His wife is sick fed up with the constant moving, she can’t even plant a garden as she would be working for whoever would take over the tied house that goes with the farm work. They had a son, also Hugh and it’s his family that this book is mainly involved with.

The marriage of Hugh and his wife Isa isn’t any more successful than that of his parents, Hugh despises Isa and she seems afraid of him, they did manage to produce a daughter though, Helen does well at school and goes to university, but her mother is disappointed that she is only doing a diploma in social sciences and won’t come back with the MA that past ‘scholars’ have attained.

Helen gets work as a youth worker and unknown to her father starts a relationship with Charlie Anson, someone else that Hugh despises. As you can imagine it all ends in tears.

There are some flashes of humour in this book such as ….for she was a tight woman and had she been a ghost she would have grudged giving you a fright.

The characters in this book remind me, if I ever needed to be reminded of why I am ‘pining for the west’ as they are almost all miserable and mean spirited and are their own worst enemies. Love doesn’t seem to enter into anyone’s life, people get married because they have to marry someone and quickly go right off them it seems. There’s only one character who seems to have any human warmth – and she’s the talk of the place – being a wee bit too friendly with some of the local men. But the women have to admit that she always hangs out a ‘bonnie white washing.’ High praise indeed among the women.

This is supposedly Jessie Kesson’s best book but I just found it too depressing, I have no doubts that it is a very true portrait of the area and the times. Some readers wallow in misery, but it’s not for me

You can read what Jack thought of the book here.

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

I missed out on doing Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times which is hosted by Judith@ Reader in the Wilderness last week, I had every intention of doing it at some point during the week and then found myself at the next Friday with it still undone, a bit like me!

It’s a very weird thing but despite the lockdown and obviously being nowhere at all apart from house and garden and a walk for the Guardian every morning, I seem to have less and less time for doing stuff. How did I fit in visits to interesting places before the lockdown? It’s a mystery.

Anyway, I’m so behind with things I’m using the same shelves as last time and highlighting just three books, still Scottish ones obviously as they’re from some of our Scottish book shelves.

Scottish Books 1

Scottish Books 2

Trumpet cover

Trumpet by Jackie Kay was published in 1998. The blurb says – Joss Moody was a celebrated trumpeter, he has just died and the jazz world is in mourning. But in death Joss can no longer guard the secret he kept all his life, and Colman his adoring adopted son, must confront the truth: the man whom he believed to be his father was in fact a woman.

Jacky Kay was herself adopted and is better known as a poet nowadays. Trumpet was her first novel and it won the Guardian fiction prize, she is the third modern Makar. (Scottish poet laureate) You can read about her here. I find it hilarious that she says that Scottish people still ask her where she is from – as if having dark skin means they must mean which country she is from. I’m always asking other people with Scottish accents where they are from and other Scottish people ask ME where I am from. We just mean – which part of Scotland (town) do you come from!

Joseph Knight cover

Joseph Knight by James Robertson was first published in 2003. This is historical fiction which is I believe based on fact.

After the Battle of Culloden young Sir John Wedderburn is exiled to Jamaica where he makes a fortune as a sugar planter. Returning home to Scotland to marry and re-establish his family name , he brings with him a black slave, one of the first in Scotland. But slavery was illegal in Scotland and there’s a big court case to prove that slave laws of Jamaica do not apply in Scotland.

This story is based on a true situation, but this tale is full of enslavement – of the colliers, spinners, women and even the imperialists – it sounds interesting.

Glitter of Mica cover

Glitter of Mica by Jessie Kesson was first published in 1963 and it’s Kesson’s second book. It’s an autobiographical novel and the setting is rural Aberdeenshire. Helen Riddel is the daughter of the head dairyman at Darklands farm. She has just returned from university where the world has been opened up to her, will she cut off the ties to her family and opt for a new life away from the narrowness of her previous rural existence?

As ever I hope to get around to reading these books sometime soonish although I must point out that I didn’t buy any of these books – they’re all Jack’s fault!

Another Time Another Place by Jessie Kesson

Another Time Another Place by Jessie Kesson was published in 1983. The setting is rural Scotland, early on in World War 2. Kesson writes about what she had experienced in her life so her books are very autobiographical. If you’re the sort of reader who expects to experience a roller coaster of emotions in everything you read then you probably won’t be interested in this type of book which is as much a social history of a time past than anything else.

A young woman who didn’t have much confidence in herself ends up marrying a young farm worker, much to her surprise as she never thought any man would want her. Her life is all farm work, the men around the place have not been called up for war as their work of growing food is essential.

When three Italian prisoners of war are billetted on the farm it causes some upset. It seems to some that the prisoners are more free than the locals, they even have bicycles provided for them, when the locals have to buy their own – or can’t afford them. One of the Eye-ties is after the young wife, he’s after just about anything in a skirt mind you and to be fair her husband only seems to be interested in money.

I really like Jessie Kesson’s writing, her descriptions of the countryside and rural life remind me of Willa Cather and in some ways Irene Nemirovsky too. From a social history perspective I can’t help thinking that it’s just as well that most of the people in such rural communities would have had no experience of any other sort of life, because it was so narrow, all hard work for little money and not a lot to look forward to except the changing of the seasons – or having Italian prisoners of war billetted next to you.

I read this one as part of the Read Scotland 2015 Challenge, it’s my 11th so far, I think I’ll manage to get to 20 before the end of the year.

The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson

 The White Bird Passes cover

The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson was first published in 1958. It’s very autobiographical, based on Kesson’s poverty stricken childhood in a small town in the Scottish Highlands.

Liza McVean is a young unmarried woman and mother to Janie who is 8 years old at the beginning of the book. They live in ‘the lane’ which is a slum area of the town. There don’t seem to be many men around, the lane is ‘run’ by a few prominent women in the community one of whom makes sure that the people in the lanes abide by her rule of which toilet they should use. It seems there were only two outside toilets for the whole community.

In some ways it seems like a loving and caring place to grow up, despite the poverty, bugs, nits and the fact that some of the women are obviously ‘on the game’ as their only means of surviving. In fact Liza herself seems to have been pushed down that road too and it’s probably that which makes the ‘cruelty man’ decide to remove Janie from her home and have her placed in an orphanage.

Liza had had a good upbringing herself as the reader can see when the two of them go off to visit her mother on the family farm. The mother is welcoming but Liza’s father doesn’t acknowledge either of them. I suppose Liza had brought shame on him and there was never going to be any forgiveness for that, so Liza and Janie are left to sink or swim and under the circumstances sinking is much more likely.

The first part of this book was really good probably because she was reminiscing on what had been for her happy times but it sort of ran downhill when Janie was taken away to the orphanage. She did eventually get over being torn from her mother whom she had really loved and she turned out to have a brain and a real aptitude for learning and writing in particular but those in charge of the orphanage didn’t believe that a female from such circumstances should be given the chance to rise above them and get an education.

Given that the book is set in the 1920s, that attitude to females isn’t the least bit surprising as it wasn’t any better in the 1970s and it was only fairly recently that it dawned on me that, of all of my many schoolfriends, it was only the ones who had no brothers who were allowed to go on to college or university. I actually overheard my own mother saying to another woman – “There’s no point in putting any effort into daughters as they just grow up to push prams”!! It’s a wonder more of us didn’t go doo-lally.

I read this one as part of the Read Scotland 2015 Challenge.