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The first, and usually considered the best, of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's trilogy of books that appeared between 1932 and 1934, which became known as "A Scots Quair", Sunset Song is a superb free-standing novel.
When phrases like "one of the most acclaimed Scottish novels of the 20th century" and "voted best Scottish book of all time" appear on the cover of a book, it can lead to a degree of wariness. But Sunset Song really is a truly magnificent book, one that takes you on a carefully paced and entrancing journey.
Set in a fictional Aberdeenshire farming community called Kinraddie, in the years up to and during the First World War, the book revolves around Chris Gurthrie and her family. Much of the book has a timeless feel: these are people who are working the land in the same way as generations of people before them. It comes almost as a shock to the reader when mention is made of the motor cars on the main road going through Kinraddie: and you realise that the books is set less than a century ago.
But the wider world inevitably catches up with Chris, her family, and Kinraddie, with the advent of war in 1914. And the issues that come to the fore stray beyond the purely domestic, as pacifism and socialism are explored through the village community. It is sobering to have it brought home so graphically that the names that appear on war memorials in every Scottish village each represent real people with friends, family and neighbours: people who in some cases you have come to know very well.
Sunset Song was written after Lewis Grassic Gibbon had settled in Southern England. It is written in an artificial language of English with a liberal sprinkling of Scots words: enough to add atmosphere, but not enough to deter an English readership (and there is a glossary at the back). When the book first appeared it caused a stir because of its down to earth treatment of sex and childbirth, and a certain disrespect for the role of the established church in rural communities.