From the bookshelf at the lodge where we were staying on Lewis, I have been reading Iain Crichton Smith’s The Dream (one of his poems was up here last Friday). It's an account of a young married couple in Glasgow, both from the island of Raws, although they met in an art gallery, in Glasgow. They have very different memories of their island upbringing: she is angry and bitter at her loveless rearing by a religious bigot of an aunt who reminded her every day that she was illegitimate, ungrateful, and probably bound for hell, and who stopped her gaining any pleasure or friends from her life; understandably, she fled this existence as soon as she could, and continued to be haunted by the otherness her aunt had always seen in her. He, on the other hand, had a happy upbringing, full of love and friends, and enjoyed his childhood as some kind of elysium to which he would like to return and on which he draws continually.
He teaches Gaelic at university – language, literature, and cultural context, and one day it comes to him that he’s really wasted in Glasgow and should return to the islands, so that he can help give Gaelic a future, rather than continually living in the past, as in literature lectures and the forced ceilidhs of Glasgow exiles. She is horrified by this idea, and the book is a study of how they debate – or avoiding debating – this issue, and how they eventually resolve it. It’s a short, powerful book, with a strong poetic feel to, both in the prose of the text and the frequent references and quotations to poetry and song. It’s not exactly about language, but it does focus on the role of language in making a culture and making individuals – but book is much less dry and forbidding than this might suggest – in fact, it’s lively and vigorous, and I really rather enjoyed it.