It was Peggy at Peggy Ann’s Post who put me on to reading this book. She downloaded it from Project Gutenberg but I bought a paperback and, Evee, if you don’t want to download it you can have my copy of the book.
The story is mainly set in the small fictional Scottish town of Barbie which is supposed to be somewhere in the east of Scotland, but not Fife – Lothian-ish I think. The town is aptly named as just about all of the words that come out of the townsfolks’ mouths are barbed comments. There’s one kind character in the whole town, the baker.
John Gourlay is a local businessman who has cornered the market in deliveries at a time when everything had to go by horse and cart. He had cut all his competitors out by delivering goods for nothing until they had to give up their businesses. So you can see he was not a nice chap, he was a real cut throat businessman and his only interest in life seems to have been spending money on his house and making it stand out as the best house in the town.
Gourlay’s favourite pastime was to put other people down at the same time as puffing himself up and he never had a kind word for anyone. As you can imagine he was the most disliked man in town because of his nasty personality, but to be fair the other inhabitants of Barbie weren’t far behind Gourlay in the charmless stakes.
That’s the main problem with the book as it’s difficult to really enjoy a book when it’s full of miserably mean characters. It’s also slow to get going and it wasn’t until about page 70 that I really started getting into it. Although I’m a Scot the fact that it’s written in broad and fairly archaic Scots didn’t help, it takes a while to get into the way of the dialogue.
Eventually I was glad that I had read the book. George Douglas Brown seems to have been doing for small town Scotland much the same as Thomas Hardy did for rural England, in other words captured the essence of the time and place, an honest portrayal, warts and all. As with Hardy, it’s a doom laden read. The moral is pride comes before a fall.
Apparently The House with the Green Shutters was the first book by a Scottish author which was a realistic picture of the times. Previous books had been all sentiment and cosiness and nothing like reality at all, they were known as Kailyard books. It was reading this book which pushed Lewis Grassic Gibbon to write his Sunset Song trilogy, set in the harsh landscape of Aberdeenshire. Anyone reading Green Shutters can’t help but notice that all the women characters are kept very much in the background and I’m sure that must have been an inspiration to Gibbon to write his books with stronger women characters.
There is only one good female character in Green Shutters and she’s only there for a couple of pages – if that. Mrs. Wilson comes from the west of Scotland and has a completely different temperament from the population of Barbie. Ahem – I’m saying nothing!