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BBC Interview

Sunset Song

Our unique re-tellings of Sunset Song provide the meaty filling for Otter Pie and Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s book from 1932 has given us the perfect way to grapple with a very particular aspect of the Scottish psyche.

Forgotten the story or never even heard of the book? Here is the back cover blurb from the Canongate Press edition:

Divided between her love of the land and the brutal harshness of farming life, young Chris Guthrie finally chooses to stay in the rural community of her childhood. Yet the First World War and the economic and social changes that follow make her a widow and mock the efforts of her youth. But although the days of the small crofter are over, Chris symbolises an intuitive strengh which, like the land itself, endures despite everything.

Sunset Song is the first and most celebrated book of Grassic Gibbons’ great trilogy, A Scots Quair. It provides a powerful description of life in the first two decades of the century through the evocation of change and the lyrical intensity of its prose. It is hard to think of any other Scottish novel this century which has received wider acclaim and better epitomises the feelings of a nation.

When we first began to work with the book, we distilled it down into the main events and found that in very simple terms, the story could be seen as a catalogue of disasters for the strong, young heroine, Chris Guthrie. In its entirety, the book has a lyrical style and seems very modern especially in the description of a young girl’s emotional development as she grows up. But in terms of what actually happens, especially in the first section where Chris’ life is slowly ripped apart by the actions of her family, the harshness of the farming life, and the oppressive pressures of her society, there is very little positive to cling to.

When we found out that Sunset Song had been named Scotland’s best-loved book and was mentioned by Gordon Brown as his favourite novel, we had to wonder if this was really the best story for Scotland to be telling itself in the 21st Century…