To visit Jonathan Falla's author page, please click here.
Glenfarron is the tale of a rugged Scottish Highland landscape and the impact of three contrasted generations of outsiders: Polish aircrew at a British military hospital in the 1940s; young Glaswegians who inherit country property in the 1970s; African diplomats in 2006. There is a tragedy of illicit love, a psychological haunting, and a comedy of post-colonial hangovers.
These three histories overlap in a fine texture of place and memory, family passions and guilt. Nobody is left untouched, and by the end all have gone through startling changes. The wounded Polish servicemen arrive as heroes, and are then stunned by rejection. The Glaswegian couple are not what they seem, and their story – which begins with tenderness and creativity – implodes into horror. A collector of African artefacts draws his remote community into a farcical battle to defend their ‘heritage’ against foreigners. Jonathan Falla’s third novel is a triumph of storytelling, saturated with atmosphere and personality.
Praise for Glenfarron
'An intelligent, well-written, ambitious and often moving book. [Falla] writes well and vividly, and is no longer to be described as a promising novelist, but as an accomplished one. Glenfarron is a real achievement.'
Allan Massie, The Scotsman
For a review on the Lizzy Siddal blog, please click here: http://lizzysiddal.wordpress.com/2008/10/15/glenfarron-jonathan-falla/
About Jonathan Falla
Jonathan Falla lived in a part of Scotland oddly like Glenfarron, where he inhabited a freezing hayloft while writing a book about tropical Burma. Such incongruities are the stuff of his writing. He is the holder of a Creative Scotland award, and in 2007 was short-listed for the National Story Prize. His previous novels are Poor Mercy and Blue Poppies. For more about the author see www.jonathanfalla.wordpress.com
An extract from Glenfarron
Vladislaw, in later years, would tell anyone how fine Sara looked in uniform, slim and neatly made. He would recall her cycling in to the hospital, sometimes a little warm with the exercise, and with small dark patches under her arms.
Coasting downhill into the hospital grounds, she always seemed light-hearted, and she threw smiles to anyone she passed. She’d tweak the cycle bell for simple pleasure. The day after that outing, she was humming to herself:
Ring, ring, ring the bell,
My little skylark of the Ukraine.
Over the Chinese Bridge she rolled; the slats rattled but she kept her eyes up lest the sight of rushing water make her sick. She pinged her bell again – then felt self-conscious and put out a finger to still it.
An hour later she stood absently smoothing her pinafore, waiting at the clinic hut window. On the ink-stained wooden table lay a manila folder of medical notes. On the floor nearby were weights and bars. The hut was quiet and still. A bluebottle thrashed in a cobweb. Sara looked toward the door: no one coming.
She walked quickly through the castle corridors, passing with neutral smiles the damaged men. In a silent upper passageway she came to an open door, a dormitory with four plain steel beds and lockers, and one man sitting with his back to the door.
She moved round to face him. ‘No exercise today?’
He had in his hand a small pouch of red cloth that he weighed and contemplated. She saw that all the life had gone from his face. She sat on the bedside chair.
‘What’s wrong, Jacky?’
He said, ‘Give me your hands.’
Surprised, she held them out. He took and positioned them on his own knee, palms upwards in a cup. Then he eased open the drawstring of the pouch and trickled out a little of the contents: rich dark soil.
‘That is all I have of Poland.’
He studied it for a moment.
‘The only tangible thing.’
Sara gazed down at the dry soil in her hands. She couldn’t bear to look at Jacky; she felt as if she was someone wandering on a misty hill where there might be a precipice. She closed her hands over the soil as though it were a fledgling she’d saved but didn’t know how to heal.
She said: ‘Come and see us again. Please?’
‘Your husband doesn’t like me,’ Jacky remarked.
She was about to deny it, but he put his hand over hers, which stilled her. So she only murmured: ‘Charlie likes you very much.’
He absorbed this, and pressed her hand.
Charlie Dulce liked Jacky Whisky, but warily. Jacky’s voice was strange. And a strange voice suggested a world that the little boy had no experience of, and could not gauge at all. Just as there were things about his Aunt Sara that he could not understand: a bitter-sweetness, a sense that she both clung to him and was reserved; adoring but also cool.
In later life, Charlie Dulce did his best to remember them both and understand them. He sometimes told himself that the effort was useless, that he never would bridge the gap of experience. But then he became a doctor and, as such, attempted to imagine a woman’s experience of childbirth. He could not know how that felt. On the other hand, he could imagine it sympathetically, and since none of us can know the contents of another mind, he decided that no one could say categorically that his imagination got it wrong. Nor, indeed, could any woman be entirely sure that she knows ‘just what it was like’ for any other woman, since everyone’s experience is different and, again, we cannot know the content of another mind.
Similarly, Charlie had never suffered a stillbirth, although as a doctor he perhaps knew more about the mechanics of that horror than many women who had only ever given birth normally. So, when he thought back twenty or thirty years to his Aunt Sara, it was with a sense that he could not know what she lived through at this time, but also with a stubborn conviction that he had the right to trust his imagination.
Also with Jacky Whisky. As a child, there came a time when Charlie sensed something new in Jacky, an excitement that stemmed from that other world from which the strange voices came, and which perplexed him. Looking back later, having learned the history, he decided that there were many experiences that he would never meet first hand, but might still share in. He had never been in exile or ‘liberated’ either, but events in Poland had a deep effect on his life, and so as an adult he tried – with a ‘working imagination’ – to relive the effect that the news must have had in Farron Castle. He imagined the patients’ mess heavy with cigarette smoke, men listening with heads cocked, staring with fixed, unblinking eyes at the brown radio:
The Soviet Army this morning launched an invasion of Poland in the vicinity of Lublin. German resistance is reported to be fierce…
The listeners scarcely breathing, the smoke curling up their nostrils.
We are grateful to the Scottish Arts Council for a grant towards the publication of Glenfarron.