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Posts Tagged ‘Scottish Literature’

Yesterday, late at night, I was watching my favourite Netflix show, when I suddenly remembered A.J.Cronin. It made me smile.

A.J.Cronin was probably the first literary fiction writer that I ever read. I was in my middle teens when I first discovered his books. I still remember how it happened. I was at the bookshop one day, browsing. I used to spend a lot of time in bookshops even then, when people my age were playing cricket or watching TV or gossiping. When I was browsing at the bookshop, I saw Cronin’s ‘The Citadel‘ in one of the shelves. I’ve never heard of him before. Most of the books at the bookshop were not affordable for me, and so I mostly spent time browsing, but this one was priced so low that I was surprised. I’d never seen a full novel at this price and I couldn’t resist getting it. I read it a little later and I loved it. Sometime later, when I went to the library, I saw another Cronin book. I couldn’t resist borrowing that and reading it. This continued happening and Cronin’s books started cropping up everywhere – I saw them at the library or at secondhand bookshops and I continued getting them and I loved most of them. I didn’t know anyone who had read Cronin. None of my friends or acquaintances had heard of him. He was my secret.

I continued reading Cronin’s books till my late twenties, but at some point it was hard to get them, because they went out of print and secondhand copies were hard to come by. I spotted the occasional copy at the library, but otherwise Cronin had just disappeared. When the Kindle arrived, I looked for Cronin’s books but they weren’t there. During the peak of his career, Cronin was a very popular writer, and many of his books were made into movies or TV series, but now it looked like he had disappeared. I was surprised when in one of the online bookclubs I used to be a part of, readers one day started discussing Cronin. I didn’t know anyone else who had read his books. Most of the readers who discussed Cronin’s books were closer in age to my mother, and when I told them that I loved Cronin’s books, they were surprised, because according to them, I was too young to have read Cronin.

Most of Cronin’s stories were about doctors – ‘The Citadel‘, my most favourite book of his, was about a doctor who worked in a mining village and his wife who was a teacher there; ‘The Green Years‘ was about a boy who wanted to become a doctor; ‘Grand Canary‘ was a story set in a ship in which the main character was a drunk doctor. ‘Adventures of a Black Bag‘ was about a doctor called Dr.Finlay and the cases he handles in a small town / village. ‘Adventures in a Black Bag’ was probably based on Cronin’s own experiences as a doctor and it became quite famous when it was first published. It was made into a TV series which was very popular. I think this might have been the forerunner of and the inspiration for most of the TV series which followed in future decades, including two popular Netflix series now, ‘Doc Martin‘ and ‘Virgin River‘, which are about doctors in small towns / villages. The doctor in ‘Virgin River’ looks like a drunk doctor who is perennially annoyed and he almost looks like a character who has stepped out of the pages of one of Cronin’s books.

So yesterday, when I suddenly remembered Cronin, I paused my Netflix show, and searched for Cronin’s books on the Kindle. When I pressed the ‘Search’ button, I was in for a surprise. Page after page of listings turned up with Cronin’s books! I’ve never seen that before! It was like a lost treasure had been found suddenly and Christmas came early. I was so thrilled!

I couldn’t resist buying the Cronin books, of course! I wanted to add every title which was listed, but then had to resist temptation and pick more carefully. I got all my favourites, ‘The Citadel’, ‘The Green Years’, ‘Lady with Carnations’. ‘Lady with Carnations‘ is one of the Cronin books in which the main character is not a doctor. The story is about an aunt and a niece who are very fond of each other, but then surprisingly discover that they are both in love with the same man. What happens after that is very beautiful. I also got ‘Shannon’s Way‘ which was the sequel to ‘The Green Years’. I always wanted to find out what happened to the boy in ‘The Green Years’ who wanted to become a doctor. I am excited to find that out when I read ‘Shannon’s Way’. I also got ‘Adventures of a Black Bag’, ‘The Innkeeper’s Wife‘, Cronin’s alternate Christmas story on the Nativity, ‘Hatter’s Castle‘, Cronin’s first book which I’ve always wanted to read, ‘Adventures in Two Worlds‘, Cronin’s autobiography, in which Cronin describes how he started out as a doctor and ended up also becoming a writer. There were not many doctors who wrote stories in the pre-Second World era (I think Somerset Maugham was trained as a doctor but didn’t practise, while Anton Chekhov was probably one of the few practising doctors who also wrote stories) and so that should make interesting reading.

I’m so excited to get started. I think I’ll probably read ‘The Green Years’ again and then get to ‘Shannon’s Way’. My long dream of reading ‘Shannon’s Way’ is finally going to be realized and I’m so excited!

Have you read A.J.Cronin? Which of his books are your favourites?

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I have wanted to read an Ali Smith book for a long time. When I got this collection of her short stories as a birthday present, I couldn’t wait to start reading it.

The First Person and Other Stories‘ has twelve short stories. In the first one, ‘True Short Story‘, the narrator is sitting in a café, when she overhears two people in the next table discussing the difference between a short story and a novel. The narrator calls her friend, who is in the hospital, and discusses this with her. The rest of the story is about multiple conversations that these two friends have and we also get to know more about why the narrator’s friend is in the hospital. Towards the end, the narrator quotes descriptions of the short story by different writers. Those descriptions are fascinating.

In the second story, ‘The Child‘, a child mysteriously ends up in the narrator’s trolley in the supermarket. She tries to get rid of the child, but it keeps coming back. How the child ended up in the trolley and what happens in the end form the rest of the story. There is a story later in the book, which has a similar theme, called ‘Astute Fiery Luxurious‘. In this story, a parcel is left by the postman at the narrator’s home. The address on the parcel is correct, but the name mentioned on it is not the narrator’s or her partner’s name. The narrator and her partner try to find out what is inside the parcel and later try to get rid of it. This story features alternate endings.

In ‘Present‘, there are three people in a bar. Two of them are having a conversation while the third one is quiet. The third one imagines what would happen if the other two were her friends and what shape the conversation between the three of them would take. In ‘Fidelio and Bess‘, a couple is having a conversation on an opera composed by Beethoven and how the audiences of different eras would have responded to it. While this conversation is going on, we also notice how the relationship between the two people evolve and change.

In ‘The History of History‘, a mother decides one day to start living her life and not be the person who sacrifices everything for her family. We hear this story through the words of her daughter. ‘No Exit‘ is about an exit in the movie theatre which leads nowhere and what happens when the narrator sees someone go through that exit.

In ‘Writ‘, the narrator meets her fourteen year old self and they have an interesting conversation. It was very Borgesian.

The title story, ‘The First Person‘, is a love story in which two people talk about their relationship. It is beautiful. Of course, in a book with a story called ‘The First Person‘, there has to be a story called ‘The Second Person‘ and another called ‘The Third Person‘. ‘The Third Person‘ is the more interesting of the two. It contains many different stories in continuous narration – we can’t tell easily when one story ends and the next one starts – but all the stories have one thing in common. In every one of these stories, two people are talking or doing something, and they don’t realize that there is a third person on the scene. Sometimes that discovery leads to some surprises.

I loved ‘The First Person and Other Stories‘. I found many of the stories inventive with a Borgesian element of surprise in them. Smith’s prose is spare and contemporary and flows smoothly. One of the specialities of an Ali Smith book is that the font size is big and that is one more thing I loved about the book. I am happy to say that my first Ali Smith was awesome and I can’t wait to read more of her works.

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

From ‘True Short Story

“Franz Kafka says that the short story is a cage in search of a bird. (Kafka’s been dead for more than eighty years, but I can still say Kafka says. That’s just one of the ways art deals with our mortality.”

“Tzvetan Todorov says that the thing about a short story is that it’s so short it doesn’t allow us the time to forget that it’s only literature and not actually life.”

From ‘The Third Person

“The third person is another pair of eyes. The third person is a presentiment of God. The third person is a way to tell the story. The third person is a revitalisation of the dead.
It’s a theatre of living people. It’s a miniature innocent thief. It’s thousands of boots made out of glass. It’s a total mystery.
It’s a weapon which is shaped like a tool.
It comes out of nowhere. It just happens.
It’s a box for the endless music that’s there between people, waiting to be played.”

From ‘The History of History

“My mother’s gone mad, I told my friend Sandra next day at school.
Mine too, Sandra said…
No, I mean really mad, I said, not just normal mad. She won’t cook anything. She says I’m to call her by her real name.
What’s she mean, real name? Sandra said.
Margaret, I said. She keeps saying that’s the name she was born with. She won’t answer to anything other than that anymore. I mean, I can’t call her, like, Margaret. I can’t say, I’ll be back at ten, Margaret, I’m going out with Roddy. I can’t say, I’m home, Margaret, when I get home after school. It sounds stupid.”

From ‘Writ

“…before he died, the poet John Keats, right, apparently he said to someone, put it in my gravestone that here lies a poet whose name is written water. Water that was written on. I think that’s really beautiful. Here lies a poet whose name was written water.”

From ‘The First Person

“You’re looking at the sky. I follow your gaze and see you’re watching the flight of the summer swifts; they’re just back from the south.
Is it them that are the birds that sleep on the wing? you say.
Yes, I say.
Wow, you say. And never land in the ground? And keep flying and flying, and have to have their nests up high so they won’t touch the ground, and have to keep the momentum going?
Yes, I say.
Imagine, you say. Like a song that never ended, like a constant ever-evolving music, like you’d just keep going and keep going with it, even when you’re asleep.”

Have you read ‘The First Person and Other Stories‘? What do you think about it? Do you like Ali Smith’s books?

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