|Amanda MacLean: The Flax Flower
||[Apr. 30th, 2015|10:38 pm]
Part of my birthday present from the Bears was this book, which they had purchased from its author / publisher, whom they know as a singer of traditional Scottish songs. It's a love story, set in seventeenth century Scotland, and based on a Scots ballad. BoyBear said that he knew the song, and therefore knew how the story went, and this had not spoiled his enjoyment of the book. I didn't know it, but I know enough about Scots ballads in general to know that it is likely to end badly, and clearly this is something the author wants the reader to know, because the book opens with a prologue, in which we are introduced to a mysterious young man who is irresistible to women because of his curly hair and his secret sorrow...
This isn't entirely fair, but only because the book is better than this makes it sound. In fact it is very good indeed, and I enjoyed it greatly. I wouldn't normally pick up a historical romance, and I am generally resistant to books in which you know from the start that something is going to go horribly wrong, but The Flax Flower gripped me from the start. I could see the characters making bad choices, but instead of wanting to shout at them, I could see why why they did what they did. With one exception, every major character has a point of view, and they were all believable, both as human beings and as people of their own time - even the spirited red-headed heroine.
It's not my period, so all I can say about the handling of historical detail is that I was completely convinced. Amanda MacLean paints a vivid picture of life at the mill, a cut above the farmers in the surrounding hills, a cut below the laird in his castle (but socially superior to his lordship's trumpeter, a mere servant). Each season has its particular work to be done, and its own festivities, too: a repressive church seems not to concern itself with the pagan survivals, the lighting of fires and the telling of ghost stories.
Amanda MacLean writes particularly well about music. She is convincing about the part played by music in a society which relies on its own resources: on narrative songs as storytelling, on dancing to the music of a fiddle which has been made by its player, about a church service which relies for its hymns on the unequal skills of the singers present (this is very funny). She speaks as a practitioner about the singing - and the transmission, and even the composition - of the great ballads, and The Flax Flower would be worth reading for this alone.
The Flax Flower is published by Amanda MacLean at Lulu.com. It deserves a signal boost.
Ray Fisher sings Mill o' Tifty's Annie and so does Martin Simpson (starting about 23 minutes in.