Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Nine St Andrew’s Night Novels

ceilidh-danceSt Andrew’s Night is the lesser-known Scottish cultural festival. The big one is, of course, Burns’ Night, on 25 January, and is usually a feast, with poetry and music. St Andrew’s Night, on 30 November, is more of a dancing event. Heuchs will be heard across the land as fine linen and tartan garments are brought out for pressing and the dancing pumps are laced (and that’s just the men). If you’re not within earshot of a St Andrew’s Night ceilidh, have a wee try at these nine excellent Scottish novels. They’re all over forty years old, so they’ve matured nicely.

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, by James Hogg (1824)

For a Romantic novel this is astonishingly readable, and unforgettable. A man is haunted by his evil self, or is it the devil? Calvinism colours the criminal acts of this anti-hero narrator, as he explains why he does his dreadful deeds. It was published only six years after Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, so there was obviously something going around.

Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

The archetypal romp through the heather, and still a cracking good read.  David Balfour sets out to seek his fortune in the troubled years after the failed 1745 Rebellion (or Uprising, depending on your politics), and falls into a twisted Highland plot of betrayal and principled poverty. Also contains pirates. I’ve reviewed it at much greater length here.

Crossriggs, by Jane and Mary Findlater (1908)

The story of Alexandra Hope, a young woman growing up in a censorious Scottish small town, who finds that life is not going to be as she wants it to be. Her gently tyrannical father has bizarre schemes and wastes his money, her widowed sister Matilda moves in with her children, and Alex has to run the house and support them all, to the destruction of all her hopes and dreams. Or does she? A classic Edwardian plot of the unmarried daughter at home, subverted by its energetic heroine who will not be thwarted.

Huntingtower, by John Buchan (1922)

My favourite Buchan novel for Scottish dialogue and witty impudence. A freshly retired Glasgow grocer goes on a walking holiday in south-west Scotland, falls in with a failed Modernist poet, they discover a plot to steal the jewels of two imprisoned Russian princesses, and lead the rescue with a gang of Gorbals urchins. The surprise heroes are Dickson McCunn, the fifty-something provisions king who finds romance and adventure in the hills, and Mrs Morran, a formidable countrywoman whose dialect cadences are pure poetry.

The Quarry Wood, by Nan Shepherd (1928)

Martha grows up on a farm in the cold and beautiful eastern agricultural plain of Scotland. She goes to the university and trains to be a teacher, but everything she wants is endangered by gossip and the schemings and mistakes of other people. I reviewed it here for Vulpes.

The Silver Darlings, by Neil Gunn (1941)

Set in the nineteenth century, this is a story of how a crofting village was resettled on the coast, to make way for the incoming sheep, and had to learn fishing instead of farming. The men go out in their boats and gain confidence and skill, and the women learn the shore crafts of gutting and net-making. The novel is about storytelling to keep culture and hope alive, and the herring are the silver darlings that bring the community a livelihood again.

The Franchise Affair, by Josephine Tey (1948)

Tey’s greatest mystery novel, perfectly executed with rich and believable characters, and with a solution that will resonate in your mind every time you see a young girl waiting for a lift, or a bombed-out building, or the view of a manor house from over its surrounding high walls. Not set in Scotland, but Tey was from Inverness, so she counts.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark (1961)

The subtle wickedness of an Edinburgh schoolteacher’s life in the 1930s, as she moulds her set of adolescent schoolgirls and directs them towards the life of art and sex she thinks they must have to fulfil her own dreams. I love this novel for the details of this particular Scottish life, and for the beautifully handled untangling of Miss Brodie’s downfall.

Greenvoe, by George Mackay Brown (1972)

This novel should be read alongside Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood: mythic, symbolic, uproariously life-affirming and packed with small lives and passions. Hamnavoe in Orkney is threatened by the oil business, so the prehistoric rituals of farming and fishing are invoked to protect the islands and their people.



About Kate

Blogger, lecturer, podcaster, writer, critic, reviewer, researcher, and publisher (, in and on British literary history. Preferred occupation while listening to podcasts: cooking or knitting. Preferred soundtrack while reading: the sound of silence.

8 comments on “Nine St Andrew’s Night Novels

  1. Shay Simmons
    November 30, 2016

    No O. Douglas? I find reading her novels very soothing.

  2. Kate
    November 30, 2016

    She isn’t a novelist I would read again for pleasure, I have to admit.

  3. camilledefleurville
    November 30, 2016

    I, too, was surprised to find no O Douglas but there coud have been other third rate (or lower) therefore I lie low.
    A wave to “Eight Cousins” and “Rose in boom” on the North East shore of the Atlantic Ocean. And I now fall on bot knees ad cries my heart out, as a year after (an so many years after on the Saint Andrew night) I have still not found that beautiful story(in French) about the brune Maureen with violet eyes and the dashing Alastair who met on the moor, the bracken, caves and coves, and were the unsong heroes of the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
    Perfect for an eight year old and I am still an eight year old at heart sometimes Next year, who knows? Meanwhile, it will be an excellent time with “Kidnapped” that was a prize at school who was a prize or a modern grand-father of the time!
    Thank you, Kate!

  4. noelleg44
    December 1, 2016

    I am surprised I’ve read two of these!! Okay, so what are a heuch and a ceilidh?

  5. Kate
    December 2, 2016

    A heuch is the joyous, spontaneous yelp of vigorous enthusiasm uttered during a dance, at a particularly good goal in a match or at a loud concert, usually in two notes by ascending upwards by a sharp, or something like that. A ceilidh is a public or private dance, at which the men wear kilts and the women wear whatever they like depending on the event’s formality, which can range from something whipped up at the end of an evening in the student union, to a grand black-tie affair in ballgowns and graceful tartan sashes across the shoulder. Scottish country dances are the most energetic form of dancing I know, and some of the dances are totally fiendish in their mathematical complexity.

  6. Claire (The Captive Reader)
    December 2, 2016

    Great list! I’ve only read a couple of these but you’ve reminded me how much I want to try Crossriggs.

  7. Chris Cooke
    December 8, 2016

    Thanks for a great-looking list – I’ve only read one and a half of these so it’s time to get busy! You might also be interested in the top three “Best Scottish Books of All Time”, as voted for by Scots a decade ago: the most popular was Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, second was A Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett, and third was Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh.

  8. Kate
    December 8, 2016

    Yes, I read Sunset Song, and its sequels, at school, and am about to read Trainspotting properly as I’m teaching it next year. but have never read any Dorothy Dunnett, which is odd because I like historical fiction of her ilk. Will try to track that one down.

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