“I was bored stiff with it all and the referendum was still weeks away. Other people were starting to get fed up with it as well; the initial excitement had worn off by now, reality had kicked in and people were sick of the hullabaloo. We were being force-fed a diet of political candy floss, point-scoring debates about what-ifs and maybes in various fantasy futures.”
The description above from Laura Marney’s the new and fifth novel will perhaps elicit familiar feelings of woe in British, but particularly Scottish, readers. The referendum described here is not that asking Scots to decide on independence in September 2014, but is a fictional referendum: to decide whether the small West Highland fictional town of Inverfaughie should it remain part of the United Kingdom or become independent, with rights based on the discovery of a medieval document. That’s not the least of the excitement in Inverfaughie: the novel begins with the arrival of a Hollywood film set, and a billionaire property developer (with some suspiciously similar characteristics to one Donald Trump) looking to turn old Faughie Castle and estate into a polo resort and golf hotel.
This pacey and hilariously comic novel takes its influences from a range of sources, for example, the classic 1949 Ealing comedy, Passport to Pimlico and Brigadoon; more importantly, and perhaps seriously for such a funny book, current affairs and scandals in Scottish public life. Magnified through this fictional account of a small village. These influences provide a rich seam of satire and considered political thinking on the past, present and future of Scotland.
The comic satire opens with smaller targets in its sights: the trials and tribulations of the “incomer” in a small Highland village. This is Trixie, a Glaswegian with a big mouth and a drink problem who has recently moved to Inverfaughie to set up a B&B. The entire novel is told from her eyes, in the first person, which lends the book a great deal of its comedy. Trixie is irritating, selfish and weak but also very funny, with a Glaswegians’ low boredom threshold and knack of seeing through bluster and vanity. As the book opens, and with the exception of Jenny, the local shop owner (later to become political leader), she has not made many friends in the small village. She is desperate to get back to Glasgow and sees her ticket out when a Hollywood film company come to town offering generous accommodation deals. All she has to do is put up a team of stunt men for a few weeks.
However, events soon overtake Trixie’s selfish concerns, as firstly the film company rides roughshod over local grazing rights, swiftly followed by the threatened purchase of Inverfaughie by the sinister American billionaire, Knox MacIntyre. Galvanised, the community begins to work together in the face of these threats, the local ‘eco community’ taking a leading role. The whole focus of the novel shifts half way through, however, when a document is accidently discovered that appears to grant Inverfaughie the possibility of independence. The rest of the novel is taken up with the campaigning and politicking that a referendum on independence for Inverfaughie generates.
This novel packs in a wide range of issues and if occasionally the pace is uneven, or the barbs fall short of their targets, there are more than enough laugh-out-loud moments, fruity dialogue and pacey action to keep any reader entertained. The story is grounded by the perspective of Trixie, an ‘everywoman’ character; someone who looks out for herself, is not interested in politics for their own sake, and has her family’s well-being at heart. Events force her to take a more active community role; a valuable lesson for Scotland as a whole this year.