Saturday, 16 May 2015

Questioning the official narrative

[The following is excerpted from an article published in today’s edition of The Herald:]

Why is it, James Robertson wonders, that Scottish authors have been so drawn to the themes of hidden agendas and double lives?

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about this. Later, so did John Buchan. Later still, so did crime writer Frederic Lindsay - and Robertson himself.

These themes do seem to have a timeless fascination. They are not, of course, confined to Scots-born writers; but there is something in them that has plainly appealed to writers for a very long time.

The reason all of this has come up now is that Robertson, one of our most gifted and garlanded novelists, is giving an intriguing talk on this very subject next Friday. It has the fitting title of The Blanket of the Dark.

"Is this peculiarly Scottish or not?" he asks. "I don't think we're any more susceptible to leading double lives than anybody else in the world. Nevertheless, it is a theme that runs through quite a lot of our literature.You can even see it in James Hogg. It does seem to crop up time and again." (...)

Step forward Robert Louis Stevenson. "Jekyll and Hyde is the absolute prototype for books about double-dealing, about people leading one life on the surface but another one when night falls."

This is a theme that has appealed to Robertson himself over the years, and which he has explored in novels such as his "beautifully plangent" (so ran The Herald's accolade) work from 2013, The Professor of Truth.

"That was based on the Lockerbie disaster but I wanted to try to distance it from the real event and look at some of the bigger issues that always attach to major stories like that. One of the things I found fascinating about Lockerbie is how there's a narrative that has been officially presented through the investigation and the trial. Increasingly, people have questioned whether that is a valid narrative. Purely as a writer, because that's what I do, I'm interested in the whole question of narratives and how they become fixed, or distorted, and how they are challenged. In my big novel about Scottish politics, And the Land Lay Still, there is a subterranean dimension as well as a surface one." (...)

The Blanket of the Dark: Truth and Lies in Real and Imagined Scotland; Informatics Forum, Edinburgh University, Friday, [22 May] 5.30pm. Website:

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