Saturday, March 31, 2018

Alrightreads: Reekies

Is Edinburgh the greatest city in the world? It's my favourite anyway, and has been since I first went to the Fringe at 18 for a formative couple of days. I've seen enough cities since then and the verdict holds up, though those have mainly, admittedly, been at the developing end of the scale. Here are some Edinburgh-based books, because I like to torture myself or something.


Robert Louis Stevenson, Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes

1879 / Ebook / 61 pages / UK

***

I would have liked to have gone to school in Edinburgh. There wasn't much to learn about the South Cheshire village I grew up in, beyond the one 16th-century pub, whose Dick Turpin connection is optimistic at best, so it was nice to learn some of the history of my favourite city beyond the ghoulish side I already knew. Though Stevenson inevitably digs that stuff up too, it's Edinburgh after all.

This brief but intimate tour is dated in a very satisfying way, capturing a time when the New Town was actually new, Dean Village was still a village and Calton Hill was already a national embarrassment.


Ian Rankin, Knots & Crosses

1987 / Audiobook / 168 pages / UK

***

If the postgraduate Rankin had a premonition of how long his John Rebus series was going to last, he probably wouldn't have mined seemingly the whole backstory of the brooding inspector in his first outing. Those subsequent ones are also presumably less directly linked to the detective solving them, or he'd become a liability. And Edinburgh presumably calms down from its sensational spell as Europe's murder capital so readers don't feel increasingly alienated by the alternate reality setting.

I'm not the biggest fan of mudder mysteries, but it was alright. Though totally unsolvable until Rankin decides you can have the essential missing pieces now in that Agatha Christie way.


Iain Banks, Complicity

1993 / Physical book / 313 pages / UK

****

This was the reason behind my Edinburgh-themed reading, really. I picked this up in a used bookshop almost three years ago, and since then it's only served as an occasional mouse mat, eagerly awaiting the next time I'd take a couple of long solo flights and finally have a reason to read printed paper rather than a screen.

It's got the usual violence, rape, bondage and murder that hasn't been shocking for a good few books now, but it's more engaging than most of those were, and maybe my favourite '90s (i.e. second-tier) Banks. It's got to be the author's most indulgent stand-in work too, from the Edinburgh specifics to his appreciation of retro strategy games, whisky and other substances.


Jonathan Aycliffe, The Matrix

1994 / Ebook / 237 pages / UK

****

Don't let the '90s setting, sceptical debunking and drug references fool you; this Edinburgh-set occult horror is a complete throwback, and I appreciated the sincere pastiche. Let others take up the burden of innovation.

The author's done his research to make his doomed scholars and forbidden tomes more plausible than Lovecraft's (or he's just better at making up convincing-sounding names), even if the narrator's obliviousness and abrupt descent from rational sociologist to gibbering acolyte are similarly laughable. That can all be excused by the foreboding creepiness that hangs over much of it, which I've rarely felt outside of childhood horror books.


James Robertson, To Be Continued or, Conversations with a Toad

2016 / Ebook / 336 pages / UK

***

James Robertson has written some acclaimed and very serious-sounding novels about Scotland.  He also wrote this stream-of-consciousness ramble about a man's low-stakes midlife crisis odyssey across Scotland with a talking toad, which naturally struck me as more appealing. Having doggedly stuck with it through to its conclusion, I can certainly say it is one of the books I have read.

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