This story is about how chance rules our lives. Stevie inherits a cottage in Fife from his uncle and aunt, when they die in quick succession. Stevie decides to invite his old friend John, who lives in London, to visit him and John decides to take the bus to St. Andrews. By chance, Mikey gets on the same bus, is going to the same place, and sits next to John.. Mikey latches on to John in one of those public transport encounters that we all dread, one of those unwanted encounters that are not at all brief, one of those “please do not talk to me” moments that inevitably end with the unwanted: you are talked to. And in a bus, unlike a train, there is nowhere you can move to in order to escape.
This is what John has to deal with, as Mikey clings to him like a leech. And it gets worse. When they arrive in St. Andrews, John cannot shake Mikey off. Mikey behaves as if they are lifelong friends. Mikey does not wash. Mikey takes drugs. Mikey gets thrown out by his family, and has nowhere to live. Mikey expects John to look after him. And now, I hope, I have given away enough of the plot to pique your interest.
James Yorkston wrote “Three Craws”. He is a folk-singer and songwriter of considerable talent, from the part of Scotland that is a central character in this book. Yorkston has an astonishing ear for the use of words. He gets conversation exactly right. He picks his words carefully. He uses words as melody. Hardly surprising for a songwriter. It has to be said that some people will find some of the words offensive, as does John’s mother. Her objection is not the usual one. She thinks that John should not use local dialect sentence constructs, as she struggled to send him to Art College in London. He should not speak like that.
John, of course, has not surrendered his heritage. If he had, he would not have come back to Fife when Stevie invited him. Those words and phrases pepper the sentences in this book. They give it a lilt and cadence. They form the poetry at the base of the storytelling in “Three Craws”. The very title gives you an indication of the way in which the book is written. It is craws, not crows, not corbies. It is Scots, of the east coast, not the Borders. But still, very distinctively, Scots. And it is beautiful.
There will, of course, be many people who are put off by this. It may not go down well in Literary London or Literary New York. But what does that matter? Only foolish readers will not widen their cultural horizons by refusing to read books in language that they do not fully understand, and which they may find somewhat difficult.
Yorkston tells a story that is gripping, that transfixes the reader. The language is beautiful, the story is compelling. What more can a reader want?