This was, though, a decade in which literature of all kinds flourished. Among the stiff competition for a place on the bookshelf were novels such as Alan Sharp’s A Green Tree in Gedde (1965), which had the distinction of being banned from Edinburgh’s libraries for including incestuous characters, Archie Hind’s soul-searching The Dear Green Place (1966), and Iain Crichton Smith’s Consider the Lilies (1968, written in a fortnight), as well as children’s novelist Kathleen Fidler’s historical novel The Desperate Journey (1964, one of 12 books she published this decade) and John Prebble’s colourful history, Culloden (1961).
Rosemary Goring, Literary Editor / Columnist The Herald
Some books stand out like lighthouses. Across the century Scottish writers produced works of such quality and originality they have indelibly altered the literary landscape. Few, however, have made such a popular and critical impact at home and internationally as Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which has some claim to being the most perfect Scottish novel ever written. With the war safely in the rear mirror, Spark was able to evoke, in the seemingly douce setting of an Edinburgh girls’ school, the sinister but seductive shadow of fascism. In her spirited school-teacher Jean Brodie, who wielded inordinate power over her pupils, Spark created a literary character whose intrepid, intolerant spirit was the essence of middle-class Scotland. In her own way, however, she was a rebel who sowed trouble all around, and showed readers just how dangerous a charismatic personality with unsound judgement can be.
Another towering achievement, and the only work of non-fiction selected for the Scottish Bookshelf, is Professor T C Smout’s A History of the Scottish People, 1560-1830. Until relatively recently, Scottish history has often been the poor cousin of English and world history, taught fleetingly, or not at all in schools and universities. Smout was one of the foremost historians of his day to shed new light on Scotland’s past, focussing on social and economic events rather than the purely political. That in itself is not enough, of course, to make for great written history. What makes A History of the Scottish People stand out is Smout’s originality of thought, and winning, compelling style. This scholarly yet brave work describes and explains the country’s evolution, through arguably its most formative years, yet it reads less like history than like a story, where one can’t help but turn the next page, and the next. Such was its success on publication that one southern critic commented that even the English should read it. Forty years on it remains in print, and can still be found in homes where previously there had been no other history books.