Looking back, it feels as if someone threw petrol on the fire, such is the blaze of good writing that lit up the literary scene in this decade. Perhaps the spark was the political frustration that followed the country’s failed bid for devolution in 1979. Or perhaps that had nothing to do with it. All that can be said with confidence is that in these years Scotland saw the most concentrated and vigorous upsurge of literary talent ever witnessed in its history, a phenomenon that carried on well into the following decade, and showed no sign of abating in the first ten years of the new millennium. It was the decade when such notable figures as Alasdair Gray, Janice Galloway and James Kelman first began to make a name for themselves, along with those such as Carl MacDougall, Christopher Rush and Frederic Lindsay.
Rosemary Goring, Literary Editor / Columnist The Herald
It was also the era in which Iain Banks burst onto the scene. His extraordinary first novel is one of the choices for this decade. When it was published, The Wasp Factory brought Banks critical acclaim but also, from some quarters, severe condemnation. Rarely, if ever, in the history of Scottish literature had such a violent, disturbing novel seen the light of day. Written from the perspective of teenage psycopath Frank as he recalls his childhood, and the traumas he and his family had suffered, it matter of factly, and at times almost drolly described the killings of animals, children, and of course wasps, that Frank had carried out in his short life. Some readers were repelled, rather than impressed. The Irish Times called it “a work of unparalleled depravity” and it certainly takes a strong stomach to read it. And yet it has become one of the iconic novels of its times, and its influence on later generations of novelists has been profound.
The Wasp Factory can be seen as a brilliantly savage response to the grim (and worsening) political and social climate in which Banks wrote it, when Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government was in full cry, and Scotland suffering under its often draconian policies. It is also, more directly, about the ties between a father and his children.
Allan Massie’s A Question of Loyalties is also about a father and son, as explored in the setting of post-war France, when a young man searches for the truth about his father, and how he behaved during the occupation: was he a patriot, as he’d always thought, or in fact a treacherous collaborator? And if so, what does this mean for their relationship? A subtle, atmospheric and deeply moving account of what war can do to individuals, and how their actions should be viewed by those who follow after them, A Question of Loyalties is arguably Massie’s finest work to date and takes its place alongside the best historical novels this country has produced.