Wednesday, 21 July 2021

The Other Side of Stone by Linda Cracknell

The Other Side of Stone - review by Rob McInroy
The Other Side of Stone is a wonderful book – novella, short story collection? – which is suffused with Scottish atmosphere. If I compare it to Alan Garner I mean that as the highest compliment, because Garner is one of the finest wordsmiths in the English language and his poetic meditations on our folk traditions and our uncanny relationship with the landscapes around us are works of genius. In one respect, even, you might say it surpasses Garner, whose works are rooted in the myths and traditions of our country folk but, Boneland apart, tend not to connect with our industrial or technological history. The Other Side of Stone seamlessly melds a meditation on industry with our ancient Scots’ folklore and a radical history of modern society.

In a series of short, almost standalone stories, the book relates the history of a Perthshire mill built in 1831 and cursed by the carving of a glaistig, or green woman into its lintel. From the story of the build we shift to 1913 and a moving strand featuring a fierce young woman, a Suffragette determined to build for herself a career but let down by patriarchy, and then towards the present day, as the mill gradually falls from its earlier grandeur into decline and decay.

Although the story is rooted in this beautifully rendered place, the breadth of Cracknell’s vision is remarkably broad. She takes in the slave trade, votes for women and the way women are serially betrayed, the bombings of the Clyde in World War Two, the Iraq war and the financial crash-induced travails of our modern day. The story pulses with the echo of time, a gradual palimpsest of human history in this single place and everywhere, one misfortune laid on another, one hope after another lost until all that is left is the cursed lintel with which everything began. That and hope, in the shape of a young woman and a young man.

And through them, we trust – we hope – the story will continue, as stories must.

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