Retrained, finely wrought ... Mr Crichton Smith shows us isolation, perplexity, loneliness, a combination of blindness and indifference' - New Statesman 'Mr Crichton Smith has an acute feeling for places and atmosphere. The wind-blown heaths, the grey skies, the black dwellings, the narrow lives, the poverty - are all vividly depicted ... one can linger over the sheer beauty of his phrases' - Observer The eviction of the crofters from their homes between 1792 and the 1850s was one of the cruellest episodes in Scotland's history. In this novel Iain Crichton Smith captures the impact of the Highland Clearances through the thoughts and memories of an old woman who has lived all her life within the narrow confines of her community. Alone and bewildered by the demands of the factor, Mrs Scott approaches the minister for help, only to have her faith shattered by his hypocrisy. She finds comfort, however, from a surprising source: Donald Macleod, an imaginative and self-educated man who has been ostracised by his neighbours, not least by Mrs Scott herself, on account of his atheism. Through him and through the circumstances forced upon her, the old woman achieves new strength.
Introduced by Douglas Gifford. This collection of the best of Iain Crichton Smith’s short fiction brings together not one but many voices, both public and private. Ranging from inner promptings towards self-discovery, through the unconscious comedy of everyday speech, to the rantings of near madness, these stories display the peaks of Smith’s wry, surrealistic humour, and his confessional mode in re-telling the past. The longer stories, illustrative of Smith’s novels, are represented by ‘Murdo’ and the seminal ‘The Black and the Red’. There are also outstanding short pieces such as ‘Listen to the Voice’ and the poignant vignette, ‘The Dying’. ‘These sensitive stories focus on the ambiguities of the inner voice, whose promptings can lead to self-discovery or repression and madness. Each juxtaposes the minutiae of everyday life with moments of searing emotion.’ Independent on Sunday ‘He has a dry pungent humour, a gift for comic invention and a welcome ability to laugh at himself and his background while making a serious point and taking us to conclusions that are anything but obvious.’ Scotsman
The house was extraordinarily peaceful as if by an act of will I had banished all the fertile ghosts. It had an unearthly calm as if I were floating on a dumb sea of solitude. I found myself humming to myself as if I had come to the silence of myself. I went to the bookcase and took out a book and began to read. Strangely enough I didn't realise at first what book it was. Then I saw that it was the Bible. I turned to the New Testament and began to read, 'In the beginning was the Word...' - The Hermit ALTHOUGH BEST KNOWN as one of Scotland's greatest modern poets, Iain Crichton Smith was also prolific as a writer of short stories. These pieces form a central part of his oeuvre, demonstrating the full range and versatility of his literary talent. From humour to tragedy, from inner monologues to extrovert surrealism, the diversity of his writing indicates the extraordinary range of his own reading and mental world. Crichton Smith wrote short stories throughout his life. Some are fragments, others almost novellas, and the best of them all show him to be an author of unique sensitivity and intelligence. These two collections, comprising the complete English stories, include over 45 stories never before published in book form, as well as others that have been out of print for many years, thus making it possible to judge Crichton Smith's achievement as a writer in full. Incorporates stories from The Hermit, Murdo, Mr Trill in Hades and Selected Stories.
A superb novel ... it must be accorded tremendous acclaim' - Scotland on Sunday 'Iain Crichton Smith writes like a poet, with strong natural rhythm and precise observation' - The Times In the grey streets of Glasgow, Martin is dreaming of the mist-shrouded islands of his youth. Behind her desk in the travel agency his wife Jean dreams of faraway places in the sun that beckon from the brochures. Their marriage frays in the silence as Martin clings to the Gaelic he teaches at the university, the dwindling bedrock of the culture of the isles, while Jean refuses to speak a language that brings back memories of the bitter years of her childhood. While Jean chatters with her friends of relationships and resentments, Martin turns to Gloria who seems to share his dream of the islands of the Gael... Iain Crichton Smith's The Dream explores the precarious survival of a modern marriage with a poet's lean, evocative precision and all the spellbinding authority of a master storyteller in the time-honoured Celtic tradition.
The titular Mr Dixon is not the novel's main character but the creation of the novel's main character, Tom Spence. Spence describes himself as "an embryo novelist"; he has had the odd job - for example, delivering mail - but is largely without skills and has bet all on his career as a writer. Unfortunately he has "never brought a novel to a successful conclusion" never mind had one published, and, unable to live the dream, has instead dreamed it through his protagonist, Drew Dixon. His novel has ground to a halt because he has decided Dixon will "meet a girl of twenty-five or thereabouts whose entry into his world was to change his life" but has no idea how to write it. Fortuitously he meets a young woman, Ann, and, as their relationship develops we begin to sense that it will be Spence's life that is changed rather than Dixon's. As Spence's isolation ends he revisits his past, attempting to contact the mother he hasn't seen in years and returning to his old school to see the English teacher who he believes encouraged him to write. Increasingly his admiration for Dixon turns to hatred and Spence is forced to choose between life and art.
When the breathing got worse he went into the adjacent room and got the copy of Dante. All that night and the night before he had been watching the dying...When a mirror was required to be brought she looked at it, moving her head restlessly this way and that. He knew that the swelling was a portent of some kind, a message from the outer darkness, an omen. - The Dying ALTHOUGH BEST KNOWN as one of Scotland's greatest modern poets, Iain Crichton Smith was also prolific as a writer of short stories. These pieces form a central part of his oeuvre, demonstrating the full range and versatility of his literary talent. From humour to tragedy, from inner monologues to extrovert surrealism, the diversity of his writing indicates the extraordinary range of his own reading and mental world. Crichton Smith wrote short stories throughout his life. Some are fragments, others almost novellas, and the best of them all show him to be an author of unique sensitivity and intelligence. These two collections, comprising the complete English stories, include over 45 stories never before published in book form, as well as others that have been out of print for many years, thus making it possible to judge Crichton Smith's achievement as a writer in full. Incorporates stories from Survival Without Error, The Black and the Red and The Village.
The world, in Iain Crichton Smith's vision is a field full of folk; and one Scottish village is its microcosm. Here, the Minister wrestles with his loss of faith, and his cancer, concealing them even from his wife, but she had divined them. Mrs Berry cultivates her garden assiduously, and when Jehovah's Witnesses come quoting their texts, she tells them that the hill at the end of the village can be climbed by many paths. Old Annie has no doubts about her path: she has no use for Christianity ('Protestants and Catholics, nothing but guns and fighting') and finds her answer in the East. On more mundane levels, Morag Bheag worries about her son serving in Northern Ireland, and Chrissie Murray shocks the village by leaving her husband and making for Glasgow - taking only a radio with her, that's what shocks most. Murdo Macfarlane vehemently urges his puritanical views - about, for instance, the use of the church hall for a young people's dance - and David Collins nurses his hatred of Germans, but cannot insult them when they come as tourists. In short, it's a village much like any other, with its prejudices and certainties and kindliness and heartbreak: the whole and the small part. As the Minister sees in his visionary moment at the annual sports, when the petty disputes over the wheel-barrow race and the tragic news of young Bheag's death come together in his realisation that it's all a part of 'this supremely imperfect and perfect earth.' Mr Crichton Smith's novels never carry any superfluous weight: they're as spare as sprinters. He writes with a poet's concentration, and never more precisely, or more movingly, than here, in what amounts to a gentle, compassionate meditation on life and death, with a warm, affirmative conclusion.
Trevor Griersor, a Scottish university lecturer, is spending a term in Canberra, lecturing on Scottish authors. One day a stranger phones, with garbled news of Trevor's brother Norman who vanished in Australia many years before, and has since, according to the caller, become an alcoholic and been in trouble with the police. Trevor feels overwhelmed with guilt, for having neglected his brother for so long. He imagines him penniless now, a down-and-out, drunk in the gutter; or perhaps even lying in a pauper's grave. He resolves that he must trace him, and travels to Sydney to begin his search. The search takes him to government offices, police stations, the Salvation Army, a squalid doss-house; and his experiences drive him into a state of panic. But why does he feel so compelled to search? As Douglas, that ambiguous Iago-like figure who first phoned him, now says, Norman won't be at all the younger brother of eighteen years ago; he'll be a stranger. If he's an alcoholic, he may be violent. He's unlikely to thank Trevor for seeking to patronise him by 'rescuing' him. Trevor has asked himself - and it's the basic question that faces the reader too - 'Am I my brothers' keeper?' Does he really care about his brother, or is he acting from a sense of duty? This is the novel's crux, and Trevor's cross, which he bears with him to a highly ironical conclusion. It's an absorbing study of conscience and responsibility, written with all of Crichton Smith's quiet authority.
For an eleven-year-old boy, living with his widowed mother and younger brother in a remote seaside village on one of the Western Isles of Scotland, growing up has its difficulties, as well as its idyllic pleasures. Iain Crichton Smith's vivid evocation is loosely based on memories of his own childhood on Lewis. There are so many discoveries to be made, along the shore and on the moor. Crossing a field under snow has its perils; exploring an empty cottage has its imaginative terrors; you might be humiliated by a village woman when your mother has sent you to a neighbour to borrow half-a-crown until her pension comes through: or playing along the shore with Pauline, a visitor from London with her wider knowledge of the world, you might find your own certainties called into question. There is poverty and richness; and eventually the war casts its shadows across your world. Iain Crichton Smith has brought to life a gallery of distinctly memorable figures: the sure-footed Blinder with his amazing sense of the island terrain; Stork with his wooden leg; Speedy, the reluctant footballer; Jim returned after twenty years in America with such stories ... The author's own sense of the terrain, and of the characters who inhabit it, is equally sure and beautifully precise; his book will evoke for all ages the inner-emotions of growing up, as well as the outward sights and scents of an island experience.
Tom and Vera Mallow, who are in only their early thirties, might indeed be said to be in the autumn of their lives already, they are school teachers, both of them, but without any strong feeling for children, and without nay children of their own. Their outlook is wary; they hold themselves apart. When they invite Tom's mother to share their home, they do so from a sense of duty rather than love. But after autumn, we find, comes summer; and it is the mothers - Tom's and, later Vera's - who in surprising ways reverse the march of the seasons: Mrs Mallow as irritant, with her incongruous friendship with Mrs Murphy, a Catholic and of a lower social class; and then Angela, the vivacious ex-actress, from the a different world, to provide catharsis. Here is a sympathetic and unusual study of a marriage that, surprisingly and against the odds, takes the right turning; though lest anyone should feel that Crichton Smith is succumbing to sentiment, the novel's last page echoes the veiled foreboding of it first. Once again he reminds us, with oblique irony, of the poet lurking behind the novelist,
Ralph Simmons, a writer, struggles to survive a nervous breakdown that leaves him anxious, suspicious, and frightened. In the Middle of the Wood is considered by many to be Iain Crichton Smith's most remarkable achievement in prose. Like Waugh's The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, it derives directly from a phase of paranoia, which in Crichton Smith's case actually led to a spell in a mental hospital.
Iain Crichton Smith writes like a poet, with strong natural rhythm and precise observation' - The Times In the summer of 1870, a seventeen-year-old crofter's son turned his back on his apprenticeship with the Royal Clan and Tartan Warehouse in Inverness and signed up as a private in Queen Victoria's army. He joined the Gordons - the 92nd Highlanders - whose reputation was second to none as the fearsome cutting-edge of the British Army. Posted to India, Afghanistan, South Africa and the Sudan, he became a formidable soldier, rising up through the ranks to become the glorified and much-decorated Major-General Sir Hector Macdonald or, more commonly, 'Fighting Mac', the true hero of Omdurman. Then, in 1903, at the peak of his remarkable career, he was accused of homosexuality. Ordered to face court martial and unable to bear the disgrace, he ended his life. From this true story, with a poet's insight and precision, Iain Crichton Smith has crafted an exquisite novel: a tale of honour and elitism, equivocation and hierocracy, victory and despair.
Iain Crichton Smith's third novel is as different from his second, The Last Summer, as that was from his first, Consider the Lillies. Crichton Smith is at the height of his powers as poet and prose writer. This new work of fiction follows hard upon his Selected Poems and his volume of short stories, Survival Without Fear. Mark Simmons, aged 42, is a teacher at a training college. His wife has just walked out on him because she has found him so much less interesting than she expected the man she married to be. This event, which he has by no means expected, has jolted him into a major reassessment of himself, of his place in the universe. He realises that he has become bitter, cynical and disillusioned: he is a failure intellectually - he wanted to be a writer, but for years he has striven at one book, which he privately knows to be not very good. He is a failure as a teacher - he wasn't competent enough to obtain a post at a university. He is a failure as a husband, because his wife was daily moving away from him. He is a failure as a father, because he and his wife had had no children. Above all, he is a failure as a human being, because he despises everybody, not least himself. Mark Simmons hates himself for being more concerned with argument than happiness. My Last Duchess is a novel of great resourcefulness and energy.
The tenement has its being, its almost independent being, in a small Scottish town. Built of grey granite, more than a century ago, it stands four-square in space and time, the one fixed point in the febrile lives of the transient human beings whom it shelters. At the time of which Iain Crichton Smith writes, there are married couples in three of the flat; two widows and a widower occupy the others. All of them are living anxious lives of quiet desperation, which Mr Smith anatomises with cool and delicate understanding. The Masons, Linda and John, are the youngest and perhaps the happiest house-hold, who can still look to the future with hope: he has quite a well-paid job in a freezer shop, she is expecting a child. Mr Cooper's role in life is humbler: he is a lavatory attendant, but can take an off pride in his work. The Camerons provide drama: the husbands, once a long distance lorry driver who was sacked for heavy drinking and now a casual labourer, is consumed with unreasoning hate of Catholics, and when drunk becomes a raging brute who batters and terrifies his wife. Trevor Porter, an ex-teacher who like to think of himself as a poet (unpublished), is destroying his marriage by his self-absorption, though after his wife has surprised him by dying of cancer he feel guilt-ridden. Mrs Floss is the tenement's most colourful inhabitant: the widow of a local hotel owner, she still has money and can indulge in holiday cruises and foreign lovers. Mrs Miller, up on the top floor, is odd-woman-out even in this company of loners: since her husband was killed by lightening, crucified on the telephone wires he was repairing, she has become a slatternly recluse, who finds occasional drinking companions among the town's down-and-outs. The course of several of these lives reaches a startling crisis during the little party to celebrate the birth of the Masons' child. But Iain Crichton Smith declines any easy resolution of events. His fascinatingly ill-assorted group of characters, brought together only by grey granite, are left to struggle on, with their own strengths and weaknesses.