The Tenement by Iain Crichton Smith

The Tenement by the Scottish author Iain Crichton Smith was published in 1985. I must admit that I was a bit disappointed by it as there aren’t really any likeable characters, until almost right at the end.  The tenement of the title is past its best, it’s over 100 years old and hasn’t been well maintained over the years. There are six flats within the building and over the years there has been quite a lot of coming and going and nowadays the inhabitants don’t mix with each other much. The setting is a small coastal town in Scotland.

Mrs Miller has lived there the longest, she had been widowed early in her married life and she’s now 80 and drinks a lot. Mr Porter’s wife dies and it’s only then that he realises how unhappy he had made her by the decisions he had taken over the years, he only appreciates her after her death.

Mr Cameron beats his wife up every weekend, and nobody does anything about it.

I found this book to be quite a miserable read, which might be entirely my fault as somehow I was expecting something completely different. I think the only other books with the setting of a tenement building is the funny and heart-warming ‘McFlannels’ series by Helen W. Pryde. I got the impression that Crichton Smith didn’t think much of the type of people who lived in tenements. According to Wiki elderly women and alienated individuals were common themes in his writing. He was however predominantly a poet.

Depite being born in Glasgow his widowed mother moved to the Isle of Lewis when he was only two years old. I was amazed to read that Crichton Smith had become an English teacher and taught in Dumbarton around the time that I was at school there. I can only presume that he taught in the local boarding school for boys.