Sunset Song - Canongate Books Ltd, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Eileen McCallum
Why did I read it? Sunset Song is supposedly regarded as an important Scottish novel, and is (sometimes) studied in secondary schools, because it touches on important themes from the time period in which it is set. I thought I might enjoy it.
What is it about? Sunset Song follows the life of Chris(tine) Guthrie from arrival in Kinraddie (north-east of Scotland) as a young girl in the early 20th century. The Guthries' lease a croft, and we follow the fortunes of the Guthries, and other families in the rural community through to the end of the first world war.
What did I like? Very little. Kudos to the narrator, [Eileen McCallum, for her vocal skills, both as a speaker, and singer when required. Ms McCallum created unique voices for each character, and her Scots accent was such that the dialogue will still intelligible. If there had been a duller narrator, I might not have been able to finish the novel at all. The one star rating is entirely for Eileen McCallum.
The author used some very interesting, and unique similes.
What didn't I like? From the start, this novel strained to keep my attention. It opens with a description of every family within Kinraddie, and tells quite a bit of their history, some of which occurs after the novel's actual end, as I was later to learn. This opening section of the novel felt interminable. I kept waiting for some semblance of a plot, and, after quite some time, began to wonder if there was one, or if this was a collection of short stories.
The descriptions of people, and places seemed to stretch on, and on, too. I like rural settings, I like descriptions of rural places that can evoke a character of the land itself. Other authors manage this beautifully, and elegantly, without devoting paragraph, after paragraph to the description of a single character before relating their part in tale.
The inner thoughts of Chris were far from cheery, which is not a complaint in itself, but Chris's sombre, morbid musings were just too much to bear for this listener. I found myself turning the volume down, waiting a few minutes before turning the volume back up, and then hoping that there was movement in the time line. I don't think I missed much by doing this. I got quite depressed listening to these sections of inner dialogue, and there were too many of them in my opinion.
Lewis Grassic Gibbon constantly jumped forward in time, and then would proceed to reflect on the events between the last point at which he left the tale, and the point to which he had just jumped. Why not just progress in a linear fashion? I am of the opinion that nothing would have been lost in the telling by doing so. I have seen this time jump technique used to great effect in other novels, but, in Sunset Song, it was pointless.
Other thoughts: My sympathies go to any secondary student for whom Sunset Song is required reading. I get it: There is no such thing as the rural idyll; it's a tough living. It is not necessary to cram your story with as many instances of human defect as you can recall into one novel.
Would I recommend it? No. Nor will I be reading the remaining two books in the trilogy, because I cannot face any more dark, depressing navel-gazing.