Annalena McAfee. Knopf, $28.95 (592p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3172-4
McAfee’s long novel about a small island is at once fascinating and frustrating. It centers on Grigor McWatt, a fictional Scots nationalist bard who arrives on the (also fictional) Hebridean island of Fascaray in 1942, declares it his soul’s true home, and remains until his death in January 2014. That August, Mhairi McPhail, the granddaughter of a Fascaray legend who was raised in Canada, comes to Fascaray to organize a McWatt museum and write a scholarly book on him. Mhairi has her young daughter in tow but has left her problematic husband in Brooklyn. As she struggles to reorient and reinvent herself, Mhairi discovers inexplicable gaps in McWatt’s life story. The novel interweaves Mhairi’s first-person narrative with excerpts from her study of McWatt and his texts, including lists and jottings from his 14,000-page Fascaray Compendium and numerous classic poems he has rewritten in Scots. Mhairi’s voice is witty, and the metafictional play—which, like McAfee’s 2012 debut novel, The Spoiler, exploits tensions between authenticity and invention, subject and writer—is clever. But the narrative’s momentum and Fascaray’s resonance as an emblem of both Scotland and the notion of home get buried in the avalanche of “nonfictional” detail. The novel can be tough going for anyone not fascinated by and knowledgeable about all things Scottish. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/24/2017
Release date: 09/12/2017
Genre: Fiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-68168-803-9
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