So Cally Phillips was tasked with reading a book ‘out of her comfort zone’ to recommend for February. That book was ‘Another Time, Another Place’ by Jessie Kesson. Here’s her review:
It was only after I picked up the book from the library that I realised I’d actually seen the film that was made of it. And as I recall, quite enjoyed it. I thought I knew nothing about Jessie Kesson, and it’s not a name I’ve committed to memory. I also thought that she was writing a lot earlier than she was – Another Time, Another Place was first published in 1983. Her first book was published in the 1950’s. She only died in 1994. And yet I’ve been ignorant of her all this time.
Why is she out of my comfort zone? Firstly the claims that she is a ‘feminist’ writer – that always reeks to me of Virginia Woolf (of whom I am very, very afraid) and secondly because of my (mis)perception that she might be a ‘modernist.’ She is certainly, if Another Time, Another Place is anything to go by a ‘stylist’ and the style she writes in I find challenging. There is, for me, a style of writing which I find ‘intellectual’ and by that I mean the pace and the construction. I’m not ‘intellectual’ enough to be able to explain what I mean by that – but I suppose I feel that ‘intellectual’ writing is like wine-tasting or whisky-nosing, or coffee-slurping – it’s not something I can see the point in. I consume my words rather than savour them. Yet sometimes I understand that there is a ‘depth’ beneath the obvious text. I first encountered it with The Great Gatsby, which I hated on first reading and then learned to love – though I still can’t explain how I feel the ‘reality’ of the text somehow is lifted off the page and plays around in the ether and one’s deeper imagination (see, I’m waxing all intellectual now) and also with Norman McLean’s ‘A River Runs Through It.’ But in general I’m uncomfortable with books which are invested with some sort of stamp of intellectual universalism. I just like to read a good story, which speaks to me. And I do find that films can really help me get to grips with what there is for me to enjoy about such books. Often films ruin books (there’s never been a good version of ‘Wuthering Heights’ in my opinion) but for what I call the sort of ‘intellectual’ book I find that film works really – I don’t get hung up on the style of the written word for one thing.
But back to Jessie. She came from not just a poor but a ‘bad’ background. She doesn’t beat around the bush. She has some depth of understanding about the cruelty, confusion and complexity of human relationships. She explores it sparsely – the book isn’t long- and I’d like to have got to ‘know’ the characters better, but the whole point (I think) is that you stand apart from them, voyeuristically and witness their inner turmoils and reflect on that. Usually, I like to feel I’m right there sharing the emotions of the characters – I suppose that the content of Jessie Kesson’s work might make this too uncomfortable for many readers.
But even though I found the style somewhat challenging and had to adjust my reading pace and prejudices, the novel was about farm workers – underneath the ‘words’ it was the sort of gritty rural realism that I’ve striven to write for much of my career. I didn’t know anyone had actually succeeded in getting ‘gritty rural realism’ accepted by a wider readership!
I like to engage with a book wholeheartedly, and I did enjoy this, even though having seen the film many years ago I had a fair idea of what was going to happen next. It was kind of like ‘The Go-Between’ in that respect. You know the car-crash is going to happen but you can’t look away, even on repeated viewings.
Another Time, Another Place was definitely worth reading for me. As soon as I finished it I was off down the library to find ‘The White Bird Passes’ as well as to read Kesson’s biography by Isobel Murray. I’m like that, if I find something I enjoy, I’ll read my way through the oeuvre quite happily. So I’ll definitely be reading more Jessie Kesson. There are only four short novels. A lot of her work was radio writing.
If nothing else, Jessie Kesson writes about the kind of people and the kind of places that interest me. And what I’ve learned is that if the characters and the landscape are to my taste, stepping out of my comfort zone isn’t really that big a deal. I’ve also just discovered that she wrote ‘Nature writings’ for the Scots Magazine, and that there’s a collection called ‘A Country Dweller's Years: Nature Writings’ which I shall be seeking out in the month ahead.
I guess part of what this proves is that one thing leads to another. The unco 12 book challenge is certainly going to extend my reading matter well beyond 12 books this year!
Do you want to take part in the unco reading challenge. Click here to find out more. And… here at McRenegades we’d really love to hear of other books by Scots writers you think are worth a read. Reading may well be a solitary experience but having a ‘virtual’ water cooler to chat books over isn’t that awful a thing is it? And that’s what we’re offering in the comments box below. You don’t have to be ‘intellectual’ about it – just tell us what you like and why. Give your opinion, ask questions, engage. Read and then share your thoughts! Go on, dare you!
What is unco? Find out here