Those with an appetite for things Scottish will devour this book. Although all in all a lerner thing, it's often reminiscent...



Those with an appetite for things Scottish will devour this book. Although all in all a lerner thing, it's often reminiscent of one of those Masterpiece Theatre series about a rural schoolteacher or veterinarian--and, in fact, the author was formerly Controller of Programmes at BBC Television. The story is told in retrospect by the now middle-aged son of village schoolmaster, John Scott, and of his wife, the miller's daughter, May, who plays the organ at church. The courtship between John and May begins shortly after John takes up his new post, well before WW I. Slateford, at the ancient hilly border between the Highlands and the Lowlands, with its moors, farms and Clydesdale horses, its outlying Druid ruins, Roman fort and 15th-century towers, reinforces the son/narrator's obsession with history, his yearning for a simpler, purer time. But as he pieces together his parents' marriage, we see little of the simple or pure. In fact, John Scott stops courting May when he's caught up in an affair with dark, liberated, highly-educated Elizavyeta, living in a mansion on the outskirts of Slateford while she recovers from a tumultuous past: she's a Polish Jew, abandoned by her revolutionary husband, and supported by her German industrialist boyfriend, whose two children she's caring for while he travels on business. Early on, the narrator admits he's giving Elizavyeta the physical traits and personality of his own foreign-born lover, now dead; it's a way of commemorating her, and of identifying with his father. Elizavyeta sexually liberates the shy schoolmaster, whose only prior sex was with a prostitute. A Marxist, she challenges his liberalism, objects to his use of corporal punishment in the school, and encourages his defiance of the local school board on such matters as ""agricultural holidays,"" excuses for child labor in harvest-time. When Elizavyeta leaves, John finally marries May, who makes him miserable with her jealousy of the other woman; to punish May, John, after periods of abstention, sometimes rapes her--once in front of the narrator, then a child. In the last section, the narrator imagines the rest of Elizavyeta's life, and the letters she might have sent his father. Through his own love for this woman he has partially created, the narrator is at last reconciled with his father. Therefore it's odd that Elizavyeta should be the weakest, least authentic character in a book that reads so convincingly. Still, the father and mother are fully drawn. Despite a slow pace better suited to a TV series, the authenticity of the landscape and the local characters lets us immerse ourselves in a quieter time than our own. Altogether, a pleasant, thought-provoking read.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 1985


Page Count: -

Publisher: Carcanet--dist. by Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1985