At Culloden, in the tourist shop, I picked a book from the bottom shelf. I was in Scotland on holiday with my Canadian husband, who, at the time, was dejected to discover that his MacDonald forbears had failed to be glorious in defeat.
The book was The Dark of Summer. I was not surprised that I hadn’t heard of its author, Eric Linklater, because there are vast holes in my education. However, I did expect that better-read friends would know the novel well. I was wrong.
‘What’s it about?’ they asked.
‘Well,’ I said, ‘it starts off very calm and contented, then it gets all stormy and icy and drunken in the middle, but everything is resolved in the end.’ This is how I remember a book – as a sort of emotional score.
At first I enjoyed being the only person ever to have read The Dark of Summer. It was like coming across a deserted beach that can only be reached by boat. But then, glancing down Linklater’s exhausting bibliography (twenty-three novels, ten plays, three children’s books, six collections of short stories, three biographies and more), the thought began to niggle at me: what had happened to all those books? I instigated a search. ‘Eric Linklater?’ said one second-hand bookshop owner as he went downstairs to rummage about in his basement. ‘I should be ashamed if I didn’t have anything by him. He’s rather out of fashion these days, isn’t he?’ Another said, ‘Eric Linklater? Must have, somewhere . . . sort of middlebrow?’
‘Not at all!’ I exclaimed.
I consulted my father, who has read everything. Or, at least, everything written before 1950. ‘Eric Linklater?’ he said. ‘You know Eric Linklater! He wrote The Wind on the Moon.’
It was true. He did. And my father had read it to me as a child.
Linklater himself was conscious of a certain critical neglect: ‘Long ago I realized that my dreadful mistake was threefold: to write comedies; to write with evident enjoy
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