Douglas Stuart is the first Scottish writer to win the Booker Prize since James Kelman in 1994. Stuart has cited How late it was, how late as his ‘bible’, though Shuggie Bain has more in common with Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes (1996), another transatlantic misery-lit smash. Its more obvious Scottish precursors would include the tender brutalities of Jessie Kesson’s The White Bird Passes (1958) and the Gorbals shocker No Mean City (1935). From the perspective of literary Scotland, the harrowing content of Stuart’s novel is largely beside the point. What matters is that a Scottish novel has been recognised on the world stage, boosting the prestige and marketability of the category itself.
‘How can a field sell out?’ the man from Edinburgh wanted to know, helping his wife out of a cream Land Rover. They’d driven over for Bannockburn Live, only to hear there might not be tickets available after all. You should expect crowds any time you pay £7 to park on a farm, but the sea of anoraks was a genuine surprise. For months the Scottish press had been rubbishing the event, drooling at the prospect of an SNP-backed disaster, but there were huge lines to get in. ‘It’s all this anti-independence thing,’ Land Rover man muttered, sniffing conspiracy in the drizzle.
The sight of Obama haggling over his own ransom looked especially bizarre from across the northern border. In Canada the debt crisis seems to be happening on another planet. When I went home to visit this summer, oil-rich Albertans appeared hardly to have noticed the carnage unfolding everywhere else. Prudent regulation may have spared the Canadian banking system from the worst of the crash, but there are few signs of restraint at the malls and boat dealerships.