Turning Pages

James Robertson is a writer whose books I enjoy very much, but I do not see him mentioned much. I was surprised and delighted to see a two-page feature on Robertson in The Guardian this past Saturday; the feature coincides with a new novel, And the Land Lay Still. I could have done without the Guardian proclaiming that Robertson was aiming to write the Great Scottish Novel that this country 'so desperately needs', though, partly because I think the Great Scottish Novel has already been written and partly because I think Robertson is aiming for something else. I picked up Robertson's The Fanatic on a whim some years ago and thought it a great, complex read about Scottish identity, the Scottish psyche and Scottish history. A very clever and entertaining book. I was less enamoured by Joseph Knight which read more .. postcolonial, if you like, and I am mildly allergic to postcolonial novels after certain university courses (long, sad story). The Testament of Gideon Mack was Robertson's big breakthrough novel and I really enjoyed its sinister humour and subversive take on a psychological thriller. It felt more mainstream/accessible than The Fanatic and also reminded me a bit of Mikhail Bulgakov's marvellous The Master & Margarita.  I'm yet to read And the Land Lay Still (I'm still reading Ulysses and then David Mitchell's latest will be next) but, yes, I'm really looking forward to a new James Robertson book.

If you are in the UK, I warmly recommend watching Women's Institute: Girl Talk. A simple premise: visiting the educational HQ of Women's Institute and talking to some of the ladies participating in the courses. And then as you learn a bit about some of the nice ladies, your eyes might just get a bit misty. One of the best hours of television I have watched for quite some time. Yes, I feel profoundly middle class now, thank you.

(I have also just checked out some of the available WI courses and am drawn towards Victorian Corset Making and Copperplate Calligraphy which should surprise absolutely no one)

Finally, my parents recently went to the Czech Republic on holiday and as a souvenir they bought me a book on Czech cooking. I was very amused to find a recipe for "Home Pig Feast" which starts: 'put the pig's head, knee and tongue in a pan..' The entire thing is served with a sauerkraut salad which is basically some sauerkraut mixed with horseradish. I think I'll politely give that one a pass.