There are certain writers with whom I always feel totally at home, and perhaps it’s not surprising that a number of them are Scottish. One of them is Ian Rankin whom I might never have read if I hadn’t had a flat tyre a few years ago on a Saturday. Up until then, although curious about the new Scottish literary hero, I thought detectives weren’t especially my thing. But since the discount tyre shop was heaving and it was going to take a while, I walked to the nearest charity shop and bought The Falls. Never has an hour in a grimy garage passed more quickly. Never mind the fantastic evocation of Edinburgh and the totally authentic dialogue, even the narrative prose struck some kind of chord, an echo, I asume, of some rhythm in my own brain. I have since read most of Inspector Rebus, not for the plots but for the sense of being at home.
Iain Banks also has this effect, perhaps not surprisingly since both he and Rankin were brought up a stone’s throw from the town where I grew up. But I’m now rediscovering Moira Forsyth, whose writing for me (although set in the Highlands) has the same ring of truth and of reality. Opening her latest novel on a train journey to Birmingham, I could happily have stayed in my seat all the way to Edinburgh and maybe even Inverness.
A far cry from either Rankin or Banks in her dissection of ‘ordinary’ family lives, her novels provide me with total satisfaction, and the added bonus of those nuances of style and speeech that resonate with my inner ear. For instance, when the visiting daughter remonstrates with her elderly mother for laying on a full meal, she puts it like this, ‘A bowl of soup would have done me fine,’ a simple response that somehow evokes not just the language with which I grew up but also a whole set of values.
As an exiled Scot I’m not given to sentimentality over my home country but now, as I read, I’m on the look-out for language that I haven’t forgotten , but which has been lying dormant for a while in my semi-anglicised brain. So, next time there’s a frost I shall describe the path as slippy rather than slippery. Soon I might even tell someone that I am swithering, since I very often am, amn’t I? (No, I probably don’t say that any more, but nor will I use the oh-so-English aren’t I !)