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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Monday, 14 March 2016

The Changeling

Robin Jenkins' The Changeling is one of the best novels I've read for a long time. To my shame I'd never heard of Robin Jenkins and I had no real idea what I would find inside the covers. It seems that north of the border Jenkins is still well known and  his novels even feature in school examination syllabuses. Down here he gets zero name recognition. That's a real shame because he is, in my estimation, much more than a minor regional novelist.

The book's West Coast of Scotland setting  appealed to me partly because it brought back childhood memories of being taken on the boat to Rothesay  (a vicious gull stealing a banana from my five-year old hand is indelibly etched on my brain) and of going from Glasgow on family outings to Helensburgh, Largs, Garelochhead and Loch Long. One of the the oddities of that part of the world is that you can easily take a day trip from some of the worst urban deprivation in Western Europe, to an area of outstanding natural beauty where incongruously you can  see the sinister black shapes of submarines floating on the deep (and extremely cold) water.

The easiest way to sum the novel up is that it is about geographical, social and moral liminality. Boundaries are transgressed, certainties are disrupted,  home truths are brought to the surface and left unresolved. A good but somewhat sanctimonious school teacher tries to do a good thing, possibly for bad reasons and simply doesn't understand the damage he is going to cause both to the object of his generosity and to those around him that he loves.

The bleakness of the tale is relieved by an element  of grim humour  in the episodes that describe the collision of different social worlds. The ending is perhaps a little melodramatic but by this point the tension that has been created by so many misunderstandings, changes of mind and partial insights into self-delusion is so great that some kind of catharsis, albeit a tragic one, is needed to bring the book to an end. Perhaps if he had been writing today he would just have left things hanging in the air. 

The moral of the story: the Good Samaritan had it easy.

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