Reading for pleasure
This month's selection of leisure reading, chosen by the Journal's book review editor
The Treasured Years
An Enhanced Autobiography
Alistair R Brownlie (ICS Books: see below for details of how to obtain)
Tricky things, memoirs. For one, relatively few of us have had a life less ordinary. For two, the decision is to go for the broad brush or the fine detail.
Dealing with the first issue, Mr Brownlie points out that in the case of wartime experiences relatively little has been written from the viewpoint of the “other ranks”: in the case of Scottish lawyers, not much has been produced from the solicitors' side of the profession. In choosing the style of his book, he has gone for detail, meticulous attention to detail.
He begins at the beginning, from the cradle via the pram to family holidays in Crail. Then to education. Schooldays ending in the middle of the war must have had a very different perspective from those in peacetime. Mr Brownlie was then straight off to the army, arriving in Normandy barely a week after D-Day. Throughout the book his recollection for names is prodigious, assisted by a diary which he kept during his two years in uniform, much of which is related here. I suspect he underplays his own achievements, as do many men who saw active service. He retains a sense of humour. One can sense a tongue in cheek as he writes of his journey with his friend Tom Jones to find VIII AGRA.
We are taken through his studies, again in detail. Because of the timing of his demob, his very first course was in forensic medicine, a subject in which he retained a lifelong interest, later becoming President of the Forensic Science Society. Moving into practice, he followed his father into the respected firm of Cochrane & Blair Paterson. He opens up to us about his private life. He bucked the trend of lawyers marrying their secretaries – at the ripe old age of 46 he married his father’s secretary.
Space does not permit a fuller summary of everything Mr Brownlie has done, but he tells us much, much more. He is not afraid to express opinions which may not meet with universal approval, but it is probably fair to describe him as a traditional Edinburgh solicitor.
But for all his traditional views, there was clearly a good maverick streak. He stands up for the discredited Home Office pathologist Dr Alan Clift, persuasively arguing that Clift was unfairly treated by the Scottish bench. He argued against many of his fellow Law Society of Scotland Council members. He heartily disapproved of the unspoken “gentlemen’s agreements” between the WS and SSC Societies about Council elections. He did a huge amount of pro bono work as a “poor’s lawyer” in the pre-legal aid days, and was a Society troubleshooter. He is honest enough to mention cases which he got wrong, and modest enough to say nothing of the OBE which he was awarded.
In truth, this book could have done with a little editing. Are the 148 footnotes really essential? Was it necessary to name every single person listed in six full pages of contents (many of whom are bafflingly referred to multiple times by their full names). The last 200 years of the Brownlie family tree adds nothing to our interest or enjoyment.
In my short time in Edinburgh I had no direct dealings with Mr Brownlie other than to be aware of his reputation as a worthy and respected man. The book matches its subject perfectly.
This book is no longer on general sale, but Mr Brownlie has a number of copies which he is happy to sell at £5 each to cover costs. He can be contacted at Cherrytrees, 8 Braid Mount, Edinburgh EH10 6JP.
The Busts of Eva Peron
Carlos Gamerro (tr Ian Barnett) (And Other Stories: £10)
This review is written in the week when Yer Granny, a Scottish adaptation of Argentina's most famous comedy La Nonna, has been wowing Edinburgh audiences. Probably because of our ignorance of their culture, and the shadow of not-too-distant hostilities, we tend not to associate Argentina with humour. Read this and change your mind.
Ernesto Marroné is a middle ranking executive in the enterprise of Fausto Tamerlán, and also a devoted follower of the works of Dale Carnegie and other management gurus. He has undergone an unusual selection process. Once installed in the organisation as head of procurement he is ambitious for more success. When everything is thrown into turmoil following the kidnapping of Sr Tamerlán himself and some unusual demands made by his kidnappers, Marroné embarks on a quest, one which he imagines will propel him to the top of the tree.
There are so many twists and turns in the tale that a careless review could spoil the many surprises to be encountered. Some parts are slightly redolent of Garcia Marquez, others are simple farce, and very funny farce at that. Suffice it to say that if your idea of fun is a few hundred pages of well written and slightly raunchy silliness, this is certainly for you. Great holiday reading.
The Little Paris Bookshop
Nina George (Abacus: £12.99; e-book £6.71)
Jean Perdu has loved and lost until he is persuaded by a new neighbour in his Parisienne apartment block to read a letter she found in a table he loaned her. Jean realises his error in assuming Manon's reason for leaving him 20 years previously. He sets off on his barge, the bookshop of the title, to revisit Manon's life. He is accompanied by Max, the successful author of a debut novel who is struggling with new found fame and his second novel. En route they are joined by another equally troubled soul. A beautifully written book, with much reflection on the power of love and how we are lost without it, the tortured soul and the possibility of new beginnings. An equally great summer read.