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The Big Music, By Kirsty Gunn


It sounds a tallish order and (for some readers) a big ask: a fragmentary, overlapping novel of themes-and-variations, woven around the modes of traditional Highland bagpipe music (the piobaireachd) and finished with a 100-page coda of appendices.

The posher prize juries shunned Gunn. Such a pity. For this is a work to cherish, dazzling in its artistry but very moving too – beyond all folklore and musicology – in its core motif of a lone, ageing piper and his fissured family.

Gunn's tunes tell of fathers and children, lost and apart: an achingly lovely elegy for a people, and an art, adrift in modernity.