Best books on hogmanay: Author Patricia Nicol recommends tomes about Scottish celebrations

Best Books on Hogmanay: Author Patricia Nicol recommends books on Scottish festivals

  • Author Patricia Nicol recommends the best selection of books on Hogmanay
  • She said they are poignant at a time when there won’t be any New Years Eve parties
  • Recent recommendations included Sunset Song and Shuggie Bain

If 2020 were a fictional character, how would we get rid of them on New Years Eve? Drive a stake through his heart and then bury it in quicklime? Blow it up in space?

For some, of course, this will have been a year of miracles: babies were born, loved ones kindled, dreams fulfilled. It will have been a year of terrible sadness for others who have lost loved ones. But for most of us it was a shame.

And we can’t even see it in style. There won’t be any New Year’s Eve parties that I particularly feel sorry for the Scots for. Hogmanay can be a bigger thing than Christmas.

I find it so sad to think of Edinburgh without its annual fireworks and the crowd. This year the only sanctioned hootenanny will be on our screens.

Douglas Stuart's Shuggie Bain

Author Patricia Nicol has recommended books on Hogmanay, including Lewis Grassic Gibbons’ Sunset Song (left) and Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain (right).

Missing Scotland, which I normally visit at this time of year, I read Scottish novels instead.

This year’s Booker Winner Shuggie Bain, from Glasgow-raised American Douglas Stuart, is heartbreaking and deeply moving.

The background is a post-industrial Scotland in the 1980s with impoverished housing developments and few prospects. Shuggie is Agnes’ youngest child, who is lively, fun, glamorous, and alcoholism-packed.

That sounds bleak, but Shuggie is miraculously attracted: the ferocity of his love will stay with you.

Lewis Grassic Gibbons’ 1932 novel Sunset Song is set in the rural northeast and also depicts a hard life in a punishing landscape. But like Shuggie Bain, Chris Guthrie has a luminous, steadfast protagonist.

For easier reading, Diana Gabaldon’s time-traveling Outlander, adapted for television, transports the WWII nurse Claire to 18th century Jacobite Scotland.

The American Gabaldon wrote the first novels in the series without visiting Scotland, but the Highland clan communities she conjured feel part of a historical literary world made famous by Scottish classics such as Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped .

These are novels to get you back in a hurry. Read with a dram as you hum Auld Lang Syne and toast better times.


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