Move Up, John
by Fionn MacColla, Canongate Press, £8.99
FIONN MACCOLLA WAS the pseudonym of Thomas Douglas MacDonald, the Scottish writer and headmaster of Benbecula who died 20 years ago. Set in 16th century Scotland, this beautifully produced work is a complex cocktail of the religious, cultural and philosophical strands that engaged the Celtic psyche during the Reformation in Scotland. The editor, John Herclman, weaves these disparate threads into a variegated pattern of events that depict the impact of the Reformation on ordinary people.
The device of working out this historical research in the form of a novel proved impossible for MacDonald and the fact that much of his work failed to find a publisher understandably irked him. His gritty determination has now paid off, albeit posthumously, thanks to the skilful editing of John Herdman. He has succeeded in the difficult task of combining three separate works into a single compilation. MacDonald's artistic dilemma lay in dealing with the 'speculative' and 'creative' aspects of his talent. A compulsion to give the reader the benefit of the insights at which he had arrived in the course of his researches all too frequently betrayed him. His schoolmasterish tendency to preach where reasoned argument might have prevailed continues to serve him ill even in this edited version.
Herdman set about his herculean task with the agreement of MacDonald's widow. The problem of MacDonald's use of what he believed to be authentic 16th century Scots has almost been resolved. This, together with the sensible distillation of MacDonald's fertile mind down to a meaningful essence makes this volume worthy of attention.