Review published on August 30, 2017.
Calum is a middle-aged Scottish man from a Gaelic-speaking, left-wing musical family. Set in the run up to the Scotland Independence referendum of 2014, this novel tells of Calum’s struggle in facing up to a family crisis and having to come to terms with his family’s past.
His mother, Mary, has Alzheimer’s disease and can no longer cope on her own. His long-estranged daughter, Catriona, has come to live with him, after suffering a traumatic relationship at university. Calum, moreover, is still living with the memory of his brother Finn’s death many years ago in a climbing accident, for which he blames himself. This sounds like a rather grim and depressing read, but it is in fact a moving story of family relationships. It portrays very well the problems Calum has in dealing with the conflicting demands on him from his mother, his daughter’s mother Jenny and his new partner Julie.
It’s a beautifully written book and I particularly admired the descriptions of the Scottish countryside, its wildlife and especially of the artistic life of the main characters. Calum is a musician, as was his mother. It’s a pivotal moment in the book when Julie, his girlfriend, unveils the sculpture she’s made of Finn and his ‘Angel in the Stone ’which Finn believed protected him in his dangerous climbing exploits. The book also deals sympathetically with the mental illness which seems to affect many in the family. Overall, it’s an enthralling exploration of whether we can separate ourselves from our family, as Calum tries to do by working in America for a while. Or will we inevitably be pulled back to those we’ve grown up with and the places we know?
R.L. (Rebecca Louise) McKinney is not a native of Scotland. She was brought up in California, but has lived in Scotland since her student days, and she seems to have developed a real love for her adopted country and conveys it convincingly to her readers in this intriguing book.
Sue Glynn 4/4
The Angel in the Stone by R.L. McKinney
Sandstone Press Ltd 9781910985793 pbk Aug 2017