O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker

O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker was first published in 1991. In some ways it reminded me of I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith which I liked but I ended up liking this one more, possibly the Scottish setting had something to do with that.

At the beginning of the book we are told that 16 year old Janet, who is the narrator has been murdered. Then in chapter one we’re told that Janet had been born in Edinburgh during wartime, she was her parents’ first child and as her father went back to the war having been unimpressed by his new baby daughter, her mother settled with the baby in her in-laws’ house by the sea, it was a cold and damp manse. But Janet was adored by her grandparents and the nanny, then 14 months later her brother was born, and all was right with the world as far as the grandfather was concerned, boys being much more important! According to grandfather Janet is a plain girl, girls are supposed to be pretty I presume.

Luckily as the family grows larger and larger they inherit a castle in the Scottish Highlands, but Janet has never fitted in. As she grows up her mother longs to have girly conversations about clothes and make-up with her, but Janet is only interested in books.  Luckily for Vera the mother, the younger daughters are pretty and girly.

When they were given the castle it was on condition that they allowed the father’s cousin Lila to stay there too and Janet is more like Lila who is seen especially by Janet’s mother as being a misfit, she collects fungi to study and draw – as well as drinks a lot of whisky.

When Janet is sent  to a boarding school she’s also a misfit. Not only is she bookish and studious but she dislikes playing games and has nothing in common with the other girls, so they pick on her.

Janet’s closest ‘friend’ is Claws a young jackdaw which had been blown out of its nest during a storm. Claws roosts on the end of Janet’s bed, she’s like the mother the bird can’t remember, but inadvertently Claws will settle his beloved Janet’s future, or should I say – lack of future.