Posts Tagged ‘scotland’

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The Setons

March 28, 2017

I’ve made myself start reading things that aren’t by Anna Buchan again, but here’s one more from her: her second novel, The Setons. I’m getting to the point where I’ll read something and think, “oh, that’s very Anna Buchan.” The Setons is very Anna Buchan. It also seems to be very autobographical, which is almost, but not quite, the same thing. Anyway, Anna Buchan was a minister’s daughter with brothers who spent at least part of her youth in Glasgow, and so is Elizabeth Seton.

I really enjoyed The Setons, but I haven’t got much to say about it. It’s without much of a plot, in a very natural-feeling way. Elizabeth’s father is sweet and not terribly practical, and Elizabeth has a full time job helping with parish duties and managing her father and the household and her youngest brother, Buff. The mother and eldest brother are dead, and two additional brothers are in India. There’s a visit from a very nice young man, and Mr. Seton has health issues, but these are normal kinds of interruptions.

Then World War I starts, and is a much more significant interruption. One feature of a book that’s very Anna Buchan is that lots of people are going to die in WWI, whether the action of the book takes place during or after it. I don’t know if anything’s ever really made me feel the impact of WWI on the UK the way Anna Buchan’s grieving families have. She makes it feel like sending your sons off to the army and never getting them back is the default, and anything else is a gift. I know that sounds miserable, and it is, a bit. But Buchan has a belief that everything is good and worthwhile in the end, and she makes you feel it too.

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Penny Plain

March 21, 2017

More Anna Buchan: Penny Plain, which is pretty great, although it gave me fewer “I only care about Anna Buchan now” feelings than The Proper Place. Jean Jardine, a 23-year-old Scottish girl, is the main character, but not by a lot. She lives in the town of Priorsford with her three brothers–technically two, but Jean doesn’t like it when people imply that the Mhor isn’t really part of the family–a dog, and a middle-aged maid. The Jardines are poor and literary and happy, and Jean’s chief worry is that their landlord will someday come from London and evict them from their cottage.

Their landlord does come, incognito, but he’s so impressed by Jean’s selfless kindness and the Jardines’ attachment to the cottage that he goes away again. Anyway, his arrival in town is overshadowed by that of Pamela Reston, a 40-year-old society beauty looking for some peace and quiet. She and Jean become good friends, and her newness is a good excuse for Buchan to introduce us to all of the local characters.

I’m not sure Penny Plain knows what it wants to be. Pamela and Jean each get a romance, and there’s some moderately dramatic business about an inheritance, but those feel like afterthoughts, things that Buchan put in because a book is supposed to have them, or something like them. The heart of the book is the small domestic incidents, and the casual conversations with neighbors, and the little bits of family histories, and people being nice to each other. Not that any of the plottier bits are bad–I was definitely invested while they were happening–but in retrospect I would rather have had more of the Macdonalds and Mrs. Hope and the Mhor. And I think this is going to be a great one to reread, because it will be better with no element of suspense.

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The Proper Place

March 15, 2017

Monday I started Anna Buchan’s The Proper Place. By the end of the day, I was like, “this is my favorite thing; I only care about Anna Buchan now.” Yesterday I didn’t read any of it at all. Today I returned to it, and it turns out I still care about things other than Buchan, and this isn’t my favorite book. But it’s pretty great. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The First Hundred Thousand

January 25, 2012

The First Hundred Thousand, by Ian Hay, is another of those slightly fictionalized, early-days-of-the-war books. And obviously it’s a bit depressing some of the time, but mostly it’s pretty funny.

This is an account of the training — and, later, the deployment — of a regiment of Scottish soldiers, and basically it does everything right. The humor works without Hay having to sacrifice detail, and I ended up with a much clearer idea than I’d had before about how the British Army was trained, and especially about how things worked once the troops got to the trenches.

My favorite bit, though, is “Olympus,” the chapter on the military bureaucracy, which I’m struggling to figure out how to describe without just pasting in a bunch of text. For one thing, it includes the concept of “losing a life” in a game long before video games were thought of. Mostly, though, it’s just funny — a complicated kind of funny that can’t be condensed into one-liners.

Basically, The First Hundred Thousand is humorous without being flippant, sad but not intrusively so, and very frequently clever. Several thumbs up.