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.
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.