Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Lad's Love by S.R.Crockett reviewed by Cally Phillips

'Lad’s Love' (Volume 17 of The Galloway Collection' ) was first serialised in ‘The Lady’s Realm’ before being published in 1897 by Bliss, Sands & Co.  A contemporary review stated:  ‘It is far from being a commonplace romance. It is indeed an admirable example of the writer’s power to portray the life, character and goings on of country lads and lasses.’

We have seen some of these ‘domestic/rural’ stories before in Crockett’s collections such as ‘The Stickit Minister’ and ‘Bog Myrtle and Peat’ but this the first time Crockett has given novel form to this type of story. It falls somewhere between the history of ‘Lochinvar’ (published the same year) and the romance of ‘The Lilac Sunbonnet,’ but it offers the reader yet another kind of story.  It is told in the first person by Alec McQuhirr, son of Saunders who features in so many of Crockett’s short stories.  If you like it’s a sort of ‘spin off’ of the McQuhirr family saga.  And if you like the McQuhirr family, as I do, it’s a real treat of a novel.

The key setting is Nether Neuk , (a fictionalised version of the area around Crossmichael and Balmaghie) – and Whinniyliggate (a fictionalised version of Laurieston) and one might describe it as a tale of ‘the back end of the byre.’   As such it gives an insight into the lives of ordinary rural young Scots in Crockett’s time. There is earthy humour and couthy romance, and tricks and schemes as the lads try to ‘catch’ their lasses. 
Reading ‘Lad’s Love’ one has to understand that Crockett uses the word, and concept of ‘idyllic’ ironically. A failure to do this is partly what has seen such work misinterpreted as ‘kailyard’.  There is a lot more depth to the novel than such a dismissive categorisation suggests.  No, it is not a moral story of the heights of Henry James, but Crockett on his own admission wasn’t trying to write ‘novels of purpose,’  he was simply recording the way life was, as he saw it, in his own small part of Scotland.  As such it provides us with an interesting insight into domestic ritual, social status and expectations in the society of the day. 
Throughout we come across characters familiar to us from other of his works, and new characters as well. Rab Anderson is now father to ‘Hoolet’ and ‘the Deil,’ the children previously attributed to Sawny Bean in ‘A Galloway Herd.’  Crockett is happy to reuse material from previous serialisations and his original audience would have been just as happy to re-read these stories with variations.

Central to ‘Lad’s Love’ are the Chrystie family, and Alec’s prospective girlfriend (eventually wife) ,the redoubtable Nance Chrystie, is a brilliantly drawn picture of a feisty lass.  If you view rusticity and rural life as ‘nostalgic’ you may not get on with this, but if you enjoy reading about the lives of rural folk and their ‘little’ stories, you will love it. The characters are drawn with love and humour and even the collie dogs are given due credit. Add to that a plethora of interesting small detail, such as games of quoits, poaching,  the ‘Scotch’ marriage convention and the passing of seasons, and you have a novel that punches well above its weight.  This is at least as much a novel of rural social structures as it is a romance and it will appeal to readers of both types of story.

You can buy Lad’s Love in ebook format (Kindle or epub) from Ayton Publishing for £2.99 HERE (You can also buy it as an ebook from Amazon UK or US)

To buy the paperback copy in UK from Amazon click HERE  £8.99 and in the US $14.99 click HERE