Sunday, October 26, 2014

Highland River

I can't remember where I heard about Neil M. Gunn's novel Highland River, but I think it was probably a Scottish author reading challenge that provided a list of appropriate books.  Going into it, I categorized it as a Scottish equivalent of Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It.  Having read it, I think that categorization was right, with a bit of Proust and Rembrance of Things Past.

Calling Highland River a novel is a bit misleading, although I haven't found any evidence that suggest it is even semi-autobiographical.  To say it is about a boy growing up in the Scottish Highlands, in a fishing village on the eve of the Great War is accurate, but the book is mostly Gunn musing about fishing, religion, family, class system, and war.

I found the chapters in which Kenn actually does something--catch a fish, catch a fish with his brother, catch a fish with a friend, evade the game keepers, go fishing with his father--to be the most enjoyable parts of the book.  I longed for more story, but the writing is beautiful and the musings profound, albeit a bit hard to follow at times.

I must've liked the book because I earmarked dozens of pages and Tweeted a fair number of quotes.

Here are my favorites to give you a feel for the book:

"Rock and bird and plant, grasses and mosses and trees, hollows and ridges, were the world through which their river ran."
"He took to his mothers people. He was a movement of memories for her. She glimpse dead persons in him.""...youth's memories have always this happy trick of living in the future."
The book is well-crafted and literary--Kenn, the main character, explores the course of the river in the course of his life, ultimately ending up at the source of the river, high above the village where it empties into the sea, and he uses it to connect Kenn to his Scottish ancestors and the ancient Picts.  When Kenn is on his river, time as a concept becomes irrelevant.  The timelessness of nature and cycle of nature make Kenn one with his forbears.

This is definitely a book you don't fully get one reading, at least for me.  I think I'll try to remember to reread it a few years.

I read Highland River as part of my TBR Pile Challenge.

1 comment:

  1. Lately I like books that are filled with musings as opposed to being plot heavy.

    You raise a good point about rereading. It is true for lots of books, one gets so much more the second time around.