by John McPhee
The Crofter and The Laird has been in our library for decades. I’ve often looked at it and wondered if I’d like to read it, but I’ve never actually picked it up.
It was published in 1969, 1970. The reason for the two dates is that it was published in The New Yorker magazine first, and then was ‘developed with the editorial counsel of William Shawn, Robert Bingham, and C.P. Crow.’
The author begins the book with
The Scottish clan that I belong to - or would belong to if it were now anything more than a sentimental myth - was broken a great many generations ago by a party of MacDonalds, who hunted down the last chief of my clan, captured him, refused him mercy, saying that a man who had never shown mercy should not ask for it, tied him to a standing stone, and shot him.That standing stone was on the Scottish island of Colonsay. McPhee brings his wife and four daughters over to live there for a time. He weaves together the past and the present, teaching us local history and showing us what life is like. At the time of the book there were 138 people on the island, and today there are 135 people. Amazing that fifty years later the population is the same especially because the crofters of the late sixties feared the young would leave and never come back. Some must have stayed, and perhaps others have moved there. There are a lot of activities that weren’t going on in the time of the book, for example festivals, and honey production. There is still a laird, and I found an article where he helped save the only pub five years ago.
There is a tremendous amount of gossip that goes on. The author is told there is no mental illness on Colonsay, probably due to the degree of gossiping.
‘There is apparently a point at which gossip can become so intensely commonplace that it is not only beyond hurting anone but is, in fact, a release.'McPhee shares some of this gossip with the reader, using a great device whereby he notes the words of several people, listed one after another without mentioning anyone’s name. This particular topic went on for two pages.
“Donald Garvard is generous man. He would lend his last hundred pounds.”
“He comes in like a bit of a breeze.”
“He’s a hail fellow.”
“He has a strong, Highland sense of humor."
If you have an interest in Scottish island life from almost fifty years ago, this is your book. And if it isn’t a topic that you are particularly interested in, you may find yourself drawn into the book. I so enjoyed it. This is my second choice for