Candia Mcwilliam

What voice can do

There was recently, in the serious and excellent Saturday Guardian review, a short piece on Oor Wullie, a small boy whose cartoon adventures divert the readers of the Sunday Post in Scotland. It was written by Ian Jack, distinguished editor of Granta, the influential literary magazine. The article mentioned a number of things that touched dear places for a Scot, and mentioned too that Mr Jack hadn’t a recipe for black bun, a dense cake served at Hogmanay. Along with, it turned out, very many, others, I wrote to him. There is nothing so homesick as a Scot, and nothing, I suspect, as vigilant and quick to take exception.

Andrew O’Hagan, in a much bigger way, will be taking on not only the special interest group who rose to Mr Jack’s baking needs, for he has touched in his terrifying new novel on other fairylands than our perfected Scotland, soaked in its destructive sugars.

He has written a book that is about the nature of fame (no; it is very interesting – hard to put down, in fact) and about a horrible magic that young women, and some young men, discover that they may bring about themselves, shape-shifting through self-starvation, that is anorexia nervosa.

Less generally, there is the real life from which this novel grew, for it tells a story with its seed in a life already lived, and ended only very recently, in 1999.

Lena Zavaroni – it’s impossible to write this review without mentioning her, though one need not know anything about her to feel the novel stand firm – was a Scots-Italian girl from the town of Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. She had an enormous voice for so little a girl. She became terribly famous terribly young.

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