Neil’s Books

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Neil Gunn’s Book Collection

The Grey Coast The Serpent
The Lost Glen The Green Isle of the Great Deep
Morning Tide The Key of the Chest
Sun Circle The Drinking Well
Butchers Broom The Shadow
Whisky and Scotland The Silver Bough
Highland River The Lost Chart
Off in a Boat Highland Pack
Wild Geese Overhead The Well at the Worlds End
Second Sight Bloodhunt
The Silver Darlings The Other Landscape
Young Art and Old Hector The Atom of Delight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book 1: The Grey Coast (1926)
“The Grey Coast is the coast of the Moray Firth, where Neil M. Gunn’s crofter-fishermen blend like their crofts into a harsh landscape. It was a hard, almost bitter book, probably caused in part by the shock Neil received when he returned to Lybster in 1922 and instead of finding again the land of his childhood which perhaps he had grown to idealise, he found a people fallen on hard times, struggling for survival.” 
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Book 2: The Lost Glen (1928)
“The Lost Glen’s vividly portrays a clash of cultures & personalities against a background of a landscape in visible decay. The cultural collision & its effects are explored through Ewan, a young local man recently returned from university in disgrace, & a retired English colonel staying at the village hotel.” 
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Book 3: Morning Tide (1930)
“This was a much more positive book. Morning Tide opens with a most powerfully written description of the boy Hugh, sent down to the beach to collect mussels for his father’s fishing. ‘The tide was at low ebb and the sea quiet for a restless seeking among the dark boulders. But though it was the sea after a storm it was still sullen and inclined to smooth and lick itself, like a black dog bent over its paws; as many black dogs as there were boulders; black sea -animals, their heads bent and hidden, licking their paws in the dying evening light down by the secret water’s edge’.” 
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Book 4: Sun Circle (1933)
“First published in 1933, Sun Circle belongs to Gunn’s most creative period. A story of love and awakening set in a time of critical upheaval during the dawn of Scottish history, Breeta’s people are the ancient, newly Christianized Pictish tribes living in remote Northern Scotland in the 9th century. Assailed by the pagan Vikings from across the sea, the clash of Christianity and paganism, of old and new, of Viking and Pict, is a conflict from which the Scottish nation is forged.” 
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Book 5: Butchers Broom (1934)
“Butcher’s Broom is one of Gunn’s epic recreations of a key period in Scottish history, the Highland clearances of the nineteenth century. Gunn captures the spirit of Highland culture, the sense of community and tradition, in a manner that speaks to our own time. At the centre of the novel is Dark Mairi who embodies what is most vital and lasting in mankind, whose values encapsulate what was lost in Scotland to make way for progress while her land was cleared to make way for wintering sheep.” 
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Book 6: Whisky and Scotland (1935)
“Whisky and Scotland describes in loving detail the traditional techniques, still to be found, whereby barley grains become an amber spirit unequalled in the world. For the purist, Scotland’s own barley gives the finest results and no water can compare with that which has flowed off the peat, imparting a subtle flavour that survives years in the cask. True connoisseurs can identify the products of individual distilleries, for each derives its own distinctive character from the surrounding soil and water. ‘ Whisky and Scotland’ reads as freshly and relevantly now as it did then.” 
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Book 7: Highland River (1937)
“Written in prose as cool and clear as the water it describes, ‘Highland River’ is one of Neil Gunn’s most lyrical and popular novels. Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial prize when first published in 1937, it has over the years become established as one of the greatest pieces of twentieth century Scottish fiction.” 
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Book 8: Off in a Boat (1938)
“In 1937, the Scottish writer, Neil Gunn, gave up his job in the civil service, sold his house in Inverness, and bought a boat. With his wife and his brother John, he set off on a three-month voyage around Inner Hebrides. The boat had outlived its first youth, and its engine was somewhat cranky; she went tolerably under sail. These are not high recommendations, but for Gunn, and at times his fellow voyagers, the vessel was an argosy of freedom, of adventure and misadventure – for they were fairly inexperienced sailors, and the waters of the region are by no means placid.” 
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Book 9: Wild Geese Overhead (1939)
“From this evocative title comes a powerful novel set in the city of Glasgow in 1939. This is indeed a bleak stage, and yet how does this title, with its implication of freedom and flight, meld with a depressed city at the outbreak of war? The main character, a journalist, finds that a glimpse of wild geese catalyses the development of his thinking on various levels – social, political and psychological. The contrast of urban and rural life, characteristically penetrating dialogue, remarkable insight, physical violence…all are included and take the reader on an absorbing and enlightening journey to the story’s denouement. Another outstanding novel from the creative pen of Gunn.” 
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Book 10: Second Sight (1940)
“A novel set in a Highland shooting lodge, where the focus is a hunt in a remote deer forest; but this is no ordinary thriller. A shooting lodge party of wealthy English people, a team of Highland stalkers, a legendary stag to be hunted and a background of glen and corrie, shrouded from time to time by impenetrable mist. A marvellous blend of ever-changing landscape – be it light and shadow, swift transitions from light to half light, mist, rain, tones and flowing lines – contribute to the dramatic essence of the novel. Culture and personality clashes and mystery, which portent much deeper clashes between spiritual and material values, provide a vastly enjoyable read.” 
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Book 11: The Silver Darlings (1941)
“This thrilling story of the herring fishers of the wild Scottish coast is one of Neil Gunn’s most popular novels. “No-one else has evoked so sensitively the atmosphere of Highland life; we are taken into the intimate recesses of the characters in this story, simple characters outwardly, but with a thousand hidden or half-hidden scrupulosities, prides, thoughts and half-thoughts . . . the story is so fascinating and full of beauty; the setting is wonderfully presented.” – Edwin Muir. 
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Book 12: Young Art and Old Hector (1941)
“Young Art and Old Hector shows Neil Gunn’s artistry at its very best; above all, his genius for clothing a simple story of Caithness crofter-fishermen in the rich garb of myth. It is also the one of the finest evocations of childhood ever written, conveying all the magic and misery and the bursting joys os being a small boy in a great and mysterious world.” 
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Book 13: The Serpent (1943)
” This is a story of a young man’s conflict with the spiritual authority of his father, a spirit of scepticism set against an authoritarian Calvinism. The serpent of the book is the serpent of wisdom, representing his reconciliation of both of these opposite and a recognition of the inarticulate understanding of his mother, an understanding which enables him to reconcile himself with living in the Highlands. His breakdown after his father’s death and his restoration through his growing empathy with his mother are amongst the most moving scenes in Scottish literature. As a counterpoise Tom’s secret love affair with Janet is one of the most intense and subtle in Gunn’s fiction. This conflict succeeds in bringing alive both the psychological and economic position of the Highlands in the early years of the 20th century. The book also gives a powerful vision of what the Highlands might have been but for the Clearances. By turns haunting and dark, the novel resonates in the mind long after being read and is one of the first and most powerful statements of Gunn’s philosophical anarchism.” 
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Book 14: The Green Isle of the Great Deep (1944)
“Drawn from Gunn’s memories of his boyhood on the Moray Firth, ‘The Green Isle of the Great Deep’ recounts the magical adventures of ‘Young Art and Old Hector’. Young Art and Old Hector are on their way to The Seat, where all travellers must go to be ‘conditioned’ (brainwashed), but Art, who is rebellious and and determined that he will not go to The Seat, discovers that if he eats of the fruit that grows on the trees in the orchards by the roadside, his mind remains his own.” 
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Book 15: The Key of the Chest (1945)
“From the opening pages, when Dougald the shepherd strides through the stormy dusk to the little village shop, the mood is one of darkness and tension which persists throughout. In Dougald’s brother Charlie, under suspicion of having murdered a shipwrecked seaman and stolen from his chest, lies all the unhappiness that can assail a man unable to conform to the conventions of his roots. A disgraced divinity student who has lost his faith, Charlie is a man at odds with the world, and his forbidden love affair with the minister’s daughter, Flora, holds the potential for major tragedy. In their isolated cottage miles from the village, Charlie and Dougald are separated from the community, half-feared, half-despised, their integrity a matter for doubt.” 
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Book 16: The Drinking Well (1946)
” Iain Cattanach loves to play the fiddle and wander the hills tending his father’s sheep. However, his self-sacrificing mother has other plans for him. A position in an Edinburgh legal firm is secured for Iain and he is forced to leave the countryside he loves. The city is alluring and sophisticated but, ultimately, events force him to return to Torglas and to face up to his family and long-time companion, Mary Cameron. This work contains beautiful characterisation and evocative description of early 20th-century Edinburgh.” 
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Book 17: The Shadow (1948)
“In The Shadow, the violence of the contemporary world is seen through the eyes of Nan, an attractive young Scotswoman, who suffers from this violence in London, has a mental breakdown, and returns to her native Highlands to recuperate. An exciting, haunting book, written with all the power of a master hand.” 
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Book 18: The Silver Bough (1948)
“A cairn on a knoll surrounded by standing stones becomes intriguing to the archaeologist around whom this story revolves. Skeletons are found in a cist in the cairn, and then gold is discovered and later disappears. The search is on and the standing stone claims its sacrificial victim.” 
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Book 19: The Lost Chart (1949)
“At the height of the cold war, shipping executive Dermot Cameron is entrusted by British Intelligence with a chart of the approaches to a remote but strategically important Hebridean island. Rescuing a young woman from two attackers in the street, he becomes involved in a brawl and loses the chart. His subsequent hunt for the lost chart leads him into adventures on land and sea, and involves him in brushes with a murderous communist fifth-column. As a diplomatic crisis looms, bringing with it the threat of a potential nuclear showdown between the super-powers and a return to the dark ages, Dermot’s search prompts his own personal reappraisal of the people and things he values.” 
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Book 20: Highland Pack (1949)
“””Most of these notes on country life appeared under a pseudonym in the pages of The Scots Magazine during the early years of the last war [1914-18]. Mostly they are concerned with ordinary day-to-day happenings around a farmhouse in the Highlands, though occasionally they touch on excursions to remote places, to the Hebrides, to the northern and western seas and the decks of fishing boats.”” The pack of the title is that of the packmen, door to door salesmen who crossed the Highlands on foot, selling goods from a rucksack.” 
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Book 21: The Well at the Worlds End (1951)
“Most of these notes on country life appeared under a pseudonym in the pages of The Scots Magazine during the early years of the last war [1914-18]. Mostly they are concerned with ordinary day-to-day happenings around a farmhouse in the Highlands, though occasionally they touch on excursions to remote places, to the Hebrides, to the northern and western seas and the decks of fishing boats.”” The pack of the title is that of the packmen, door to door salesmen who crossed the Highlands on foot, selling goods from a rucksack” 
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Book 22: Bloodhunt (1952)
“After a lifetime at sea, old Sandy returns to the land of his fathers to live out his remaining years in the peaceful isolation of a Highland croft. He befriends the local village boys who come to trust him. When one of the boys seeks his help after killing a man, Sandy takes his side, warding off increasingly suspicious enquiries from the village policeman.” 
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Book 23: The Other Landscape (1954)
“the author was one of the most significant Scottish writers of the present century and this was his final novel. He uses it, through a tale of emotional and physical turmoil, to raise some impossible questions about the mystery of life. The action, both deeply tragic and ironically humorous, takes place against the backdrop of the remote coastal Highlands where the influences of nature and Celtic tradition propel the protagonists to their destiny. The questions remain unanswered but the novel ends with a final glimmer of hope and renewal.” 
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Book 24: The Atom of Delight (1956)
“The Atom of Delight will be a new adventure for the reader, just as it is for the author, whose particular aim is to hunt out the essence of delight itself. From his boyhood in the North East of Scotland, to his time spent in Galloway, London and Edinburgh, we seem to be watching the natural growth of a mind, like the growth of a tree out of its native soil, selecting its food, reaching for the sun, and yet remaining itself. Here indeed it delight for the senses and for the mind, and, in between, the lines of humour which is inseparable from true understanding.” 
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