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O Caledonia

Elspeth Barker

3 Reviews

Rated 0

Classic fiction (pre c 1945)

'A surreal, hilarious and dark story of a troubled adolescence deep in the wilds of Scotland' Maggie O'Farrell, Winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction 2020


Janet lies murdered beneath the castle stairs, oddly attired in her mother's black lace wedding dress, lamented only by her pet jackdaw...

In this, her first novel, Elspeth Barker evokes the unrelenting chill of Calvinism and the Scottish climate; it's a world of isolation and loneliness, where Barker's young protagonist turns to increasingly to literature, nature, and her risque Aunt Lila, who offer brief flashes of respite in an otherwise dank and foreboding life. People, birds and beasts move in a gleeful danse macabre through the lowering landscape in a tale that is as rich and atmospheric as it is witty and mordant. The family motto - Moriens sed Invictus (Dying but Unconquered) - is a fitting epitaph for wild, courageous Janet, and her determination to remain steadfastly herself even as events overtake her.

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Praise for O Caledonia

  • A sparky, funny work of genius about class, romanticism, social tradition and literary tradition, and one of the best least-known novels of the 20th century - Ali Smith

  • Elspeth Barker's is a wholly original literary voice. O CALEDONIA, first published 20 years ago, reads as freshly now as then. Steeped in classical allusions, rich in Scottish - and natural - history, fantastical in its highly wrought characters, this coming-of-age-novella is as passionately intense as it is wittily acerbic... Propelled by the sheer force of words, the horrors and humours plunge on, observed by an eye both youthful and perspicacious... The reader feels unalloyed joy, and occasional winces, on every page - The Independent

  • This is an extraordinary novel: original, beautiful yet tough ... with a sympathetic outsider of a heroine whose tragic fate is depicted on the very first page, puncturing any kind of narrative tension but capturing our attention nevertheless. Few see colour in a grey Scottish day the way Barker does ... And yet this darkly magical tale has been forgotten, displaced in the pantheon of great Scottish writing by other, supposedly tougher, work... Barker's love of the classics, her focus on mothers and daughters, and her remarkable evocation of landscape, should mark her out as one of Scotland's principal writers, but fashion and the politics of literary movements have skimmed over her - Financial Times

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