Classic yarns beat tales of 90s low life

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE SCOTTISH novel about drugs and low life, Trainspotting, which has also become a hit film, remains less popular in its home country than classics such as Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped and Treasure Island.

And even those staples of childhood reading rank below the works of the much lesser known Lewis Grassic Gibbon, named yesterday as Scotland's favourite novelist.

A national poll to find what the Scots think is the "Greatest Scottish Novel" found that 10 per cent of those surveyed voted for the trilogy A Scots Quair by Gibbon, making it the winner by a considerable margin.

Votes were cast during the summer at all Scottish branches of Waterstone's bookshop and via postal and telephone voting through a newspaper.

Robert Louis Stevenson had two entries in the top five, Kidnapped at number two and Treasure Island at number five. Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting is at number six, two ahead of Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Jeff Torrington's Swing Hammer Swing, a novel of contemporary Glaswegian life, which won the Whitbread Prize, scrapes into the top 20 at number 18.

Gibbon was born in 1901 and died of a perforated ulcer at the age of 34. His work was praised by H G Wells, but he had little commercial success in his lifetime. His real name was James Leslie Mitchell and he wrote 17 books, always using the Gibbon pseudonym for novels with a Scottish theme.

His childhood home, the Howe of the Mearns, was the setting for A Scots Quair, the story of a girl growing up in the Scottish countryside.

Neil Willett of Waterstone's Guide to Scottish Books said yesterday: "It's surprising that Irvine Welsh does not appear in the top five. Trainspotting is without doubt the widest read Scottish novel, but it's not necessarily much loved.

"Lewis Grassic Gibbon appearing at the top of the poll is a little surprising, but the first book of the trilogy Sunset Song is a prescribed text in Scottish schools and there is great affection for it."

The trilogy features a patriotic lyricism in its language as the following extract on ploughing from the first chapter of Sunset Song shows:

"You saw their faces in firelight ... tired and kind, faces dear and close to you, you wanted the words they'd known and used, forgotten in the far- off youngness of their lives, Scots words to tell your heart, how they wrung it and held it, and the toil of their days and unendingly their fight."

Just over 500 titles were chosen for the survey, demonstrating, say the organisers, the wealth of Scottish fiction.

The Top 20 Scots Novels


1 A Scots Quair by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

2 Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

3 Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

4 Lanark by Alasdair Gray

5 Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

6 Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

7 The Silver Darlings by Neil Gunn

8 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

9 Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

10 The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan

11 The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins

12 Old Mortality by Walter Scott

13 The House With The Green Shutters by George Douglas Brown

14 The Heart of Midlothian by Walter Scott

15 The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

16 The Crow Road by Iain Banks

17 Morven Callar by Alan Warner

18 Swing, Hammer Swing by Jeff Torrington

19 The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway

20 The New Road by Neil Munro