I was given this book recently by my son, who had just been on a course at Moniack Mhor where Janet Paisley was one of the tutors. I had never heard of her before - and I'm seriously wondering why: because this book - published some years ago in 2007 - is hugely enjoyable and satisfying on a number of levels. Why hasn't it been all over the bookshops? Or perhaps it has, and I just missed it? It's a sad thought that so
many books come out nowadays that it's very easy for even really good books to get lost.
Or is it because it centres on Scotland, and hasn't made it south of the border? I hope this isn't the case. I don't see why it should be, but I suppose it's possible.
Anyway, whatever. It's a very, very good book. At the centre of it is the charismatic Anne Farquharson -also known as Colonel Anne, la belle rebelle, and many other more or less complimentary things - who played a significant part in the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, when Bonnie Prince Charlie sought to gain not only the Scottish throne, but also the English one. She loves and is loved by Angus MacGillivray, but she also loves - and marries - the equally charismatic Aeneas McIntosh. For a short time the marriage is everything it could be, but as the rising gathers force, Aeneas and Anne find themselves on different sides. Anne is for the Prince. At first she is carried away by the romance and the rightness of his cause, and by the longing for her country to be free of the English yoke; but as time goes on, she begins to see that Charles does not have the character and stature which his country needs. By then, though, it is too late; the tides of war are rolling inexorably towards Culloden.
I only knew the bare bones of this part of Scottish history before I read this book. But I have been to Culloden. I'm not normally, I think, particularly sensitive to the atmosphere which some people sense in places; I've never felt the presence of ghosts, let alone seen one. But Culloden is a desolate place, with a brooding sense of melancholy. How could it be otherwise, when so many were brutally slaughtered here, and so many hopes died?
This book explains what led up to the battle. But it also reveals a society where women were at least the equal of men, and where a culture had been created which ensured that everyone within a community was cared for: the clan chief was responsible for his people and cared for them; he held the land for the good of all, not on his own behalf. After Culloden, all that was changed.
So - the book is a terrific, page-turning read. The characters are complex, larger than life perhaps, but immensely attractive. There's a lot of humour in it. The battle scenes are horrific, but all the more convincing for that. There's quite a lot of rompery between the sheets - which Janet Paisley writes about so much better than Ken Follett. (See review of the latter here.)
But above and beyond all this, the book makes you think about a different sort of society that might once have been possible - and about all that was crushed and lost at and after Culloden. And it makes you understand a bit better why many Scots feel as they do about nationalism.
The book is published by Penguin.