A MODEST HARMONY: Seven Summers in a Scottish Glen by Sheila Gordon
Kirkus Star

A MODEST HARMONY: Seven Summers in a Scottish Glen

Email this review


What a year for Scotland-lovers! First Israel Shenker's marvelous people-gathering in the Highlands and Islands (p. 124) and now this quietly irresistible account of the Gordon family's summer vacations in Glenauchen Cottage, Glencorrie, Perthshire. Shells and doctor-husband Harl--South-African-born, Edinburgh-educated, now living in Brooklyn--are faced with a dream come true when long-time Scottish friends call long-distance to announce Big News: the for-auction availability of a remote, old, loch-side cottage in the Perthshire hills. Moreover, thanks to a recent inheritance, the Gordons can afford the ridiculously low price (5000). So transatlantic plans for furnishing and furbishing ensue; Sheila arrives alone to set up house. (On the northbound train she meets a mysterious gentleman who predicts--accurately!--warm summers ahead for Scotland.) And soon the Gordons and three children are quite blissfully installed on a summertime basis. Unlike most such chronicles, however, this memoir doesn't focus on the domestic or personal concerns of the suddenly-rural city people. No, like Shenker, Gordon is a superlatively selfless observer, interested in everyone and everything around her. Thus, with no attempt at summer-by-summer chronology, we get instead a generous, funny, shrewd tour of the neighborhood: nearby sheep-farm-owner Mrs. Cameron and her two ""wild"" grandsons; natty, Calvinist waterman Donny MacIver, who visits the loch daily, bringing gossip, the newspaper, shortbread; faded grande dame Mrs. McFayden, whose ne'er-do-well son has converted the family's castle into a disco called the Lockup; the chatty shops of the nearest village. There are hikes, teas, currant-picking, jam-making, historical sidetrips, much hospitality, odd gifts (""I haven't the slightest idea what to do with a dead grouse""), lots of reading, a funny smell (a fox, smellable only by females), and an illicit swim in the loch. Gordon notes the contrast between the Scots' indoor grayness and their technicolor gardening; she celebrates the rural simplicities but doesn't sidestep the area's sacred TV antennas, or the local quirks in taste: ""the sentimentality and cuteness of Walt Disney has swept all before it. . . ."" There are hilarious interviews of dubious winter-time tenants. And finally, after seven summers, the idyll is over--a lot of small reasons--but memories of the glen remain bright. No straining for comedy, for poetry or philosophy here: just a detail-rich, cannily written report, with the unfussy warmth of jam and scones.

Pub Date: May 25th, 1982
Publisher: Seaview--dist. by Harper & Row