BUTCHER'S BROOM by Neil Gunn

BUTCHER'S BROOM

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This latest posthumously published novel (Morning Tide, 1993, etc.) by the Scots author is again set in a remote Scottish village where poor but stalwart people live close to the land and its rugged seasons. Here, it's the early 19th century -- a time of the tragic ""clearances,"" when tenant farmers were driven from their land to make room for sheep pasturage, leaving the remote glens to ""remain into time dark and desolate and dead."" Introducing the settlement of Riasgan is the old ""healer,"" Dark Mairi, a stolid constant in the chaos to come. In her ""humpbacked"" cottage lives her grandson and the ""soft, kind"" girl Elie, who is loved by strong young Colin. Rumors of clearances come to Riasgan, but the rumors are ignored; the crofters, after all, trust in the chief, their landlord, ""the father of all,"" to see that things go right. But his lordship, their ""chief,"" in a distant city, plans for a clean-up of the glen to ""put it on a business footing, make it progressive and profitable."" In the meantime, the young men of the glen are drained away to war. Atrocities and miseries are inevitable, but before the savage close, there will be both joy and sorrow, an ordeal for Elie, and redemption. Gunn's prose was apt to tilt heavily to turgidity, with a heavy undertow of philosophical or hortatory commentary, but scenes and scenery linger in the memory, and he could produce minor masterpieces of pathos, as in the departure of doomed young men for war: ""Their bodies rose against the skyline....Down all the ways in that northern land are similar little bands passing, leaving behind sudden blankness and shadow."" A firm if somewhat heavy-footed tribute to a vanished people.

Pub Date: March 14th, 1994
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Walker