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O Caledonia: With an introduction by Maggie O Farrell

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


Vera was painting the pony's hooves gold in the dining room; Janet said this was bad for him; poison would seep into his bloodstream.

At the bottom of a great stone staircase, dressed in her mother's black lace evening dress, twisted in murderous death, lies Janet. So end the sixteen years of Janet's short life.

A life spent in a draughty Scottish castle, where roses will not grow, and a jackdaw decides to live in the doll's house.

A life peopled by prettier, smoother-haired siblings, a Nanny with a face like the North Sea and the peculiar, whisky-swigging Cousin Lila.

A life where Janet is perpetually misunderstood - and must turn from people, to animals, to books, to her own wild and wonderful imagination.

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Praise for O Caledonia: With an introduction by Maggie O Farrell

  • 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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