There’s a quote from some writer, and I’m sorry to say I can’t remember her name (you might). It goes something like this. ‘Tick, Tick, Boom… That what it is to be a writer. You just keep throwing yourself against the wall and hope something sticks.’
James Robertson’s books usually stick with me. This one doesn’t. It slides down the wall. It’s probably his most autobiographical. The commentator and narrator, well, mostly, is Douglas Findhorn Elder. It’s 2014, he’s just turned fifty and attending a funeral of a colleague, well, ex-work-colleague in every way. Elder’s left his job as a reporter with an Edinburgh newspaper and he’s freelancing, trying to make a dishonest buck. His father’s in a Couldn’t Care Less Home. And his long-term girlfriend, Sonya, isn’t really his girlfriend any more. He’s offered freelance work to interview a woman turning one-hundred that used to be something, but is now largely forgotten. He’s going to ask Rosalind Isabella Munlochy (nee Striven) former MP and author what she thinks of Scottish Independence. Robertson fixates on that question. The past isn’t even past.
Robertson’s books follow a similar trajectory. Most of the action takes place in the Highlands in some neglected castle or croft (sometimes both). Here’s it’s Glentarager House. Rosalind Munlochy has a granddaughter, Coppelia ‘Poppy’ who seduces Douglas Elder. Or her alter ego seduces him, because sometimes she’s somebody else. Then there’s Corryvaken, the faithful servant of Rosalind and Poppy, but also a wandering bard and owner of the rundown hotel. Three different people who he is unaware of sharing his body. A fourth ego, Ed, is added to tie up the loose end of Douglas’s ex-girlfriend and first-love and fate being fated.
Robertson’s trademark unreliable narrator flings up, in no particular order, a talking and walking devil, or saint, or indeed sometimes the booze talking. It’s not as bad as it sounds and often works. Here it’s a talking toad, Murdo. This might just have been the step I wasn’t looking for and stumbled over.
If this had been the first of Robertson’s books I’d picked up, odds on I wouldn’t have finished it and wouldn’t have picked up any of his other books, which would have been a shame. We talk about an author’s conceit when writing books. To Be Continued is far too smug for my liking and I hope it isn’t continued.