Telling you that a book by James Robertson is brilliant does not tell you anything that his readers do not know. So let me concentrate on the specifics. There is a talking toad. He is not an aristocratic toad as in “The Wind in the Willows”. He is a common toad, although Mungo Forth Mungo would insist that there is nothing ordinary about him at all. And in that he is right. He becomes a sort of guardian angel to Douglas Findhorn Elder, 50 years old and a redundant journalist, persuading him to set out on an adventure into the wilds of Scotland beyond Rannoch Moor and into a series of quixotic encounters. So perhaps Mungo Forth Mungo and Mr. Toad of Toad Hall do have something in common after all.
Anyway, Douglas Findhorn Elder has an excuse for this adventure. He has been sent by the editor of the “Spear” to interview Rosalind Munlochy, a nonagenarian doyenne of Scottish literature and politics. (How Mungo Forth Mungo would love that phrase!). Rosalind is a Naomi Mitchison figure if ever there was one and like the real author and politician, Rosalind lives in an area of the Scottish Highlands that is difficult to access except by boat. This will partly explain the adventures of Douglas and Mungo across Rannoch Moor, like Alan Breck Stewart and David Balfour, before they get to Glentaragar House.
There are a host of characters to keep you entranced along the way. Even Ronald Grigson, who is already dead when the story begins and who remains that way throughout the book, will bring you as the reader much comfort. The story begins with Douglas Findhorn Elder on a No. 11 bus, stuck in a traffic jam on Lothian Road, Edinburgh on his way to the funeral of his erstwhile colleague, Ronald Grigson and failing to get to the crematorium on time. This leads to his fateful encounter with Gerry, the hearse driver and to the equally fateful encounter with his ex-editor who commissions him to interview Rosalind Munlochy. And all this on his birthday, which ends with him taking a bottle of wine to his “sitootery” [patio, to you and me], contemplating his recently failed relationship with Sonia and meeting Mungo Forth Mungo, the talking toad.
Anyway, that is enough about the plot. And I haven’t even mentioned Corryvreckan in his deerstalker nor Coppelia of the strange telephone conversations. You may have gathered by now that there is a certain glorious, compelling insanity about this book, and that you will not want to put it down.
Mungo Forth Mungo is a brilliant creation worthy to be ranked alongside Sancho Panza, Puck and, quite naturally, Alan Breck Stewart. [Or perhaps that last honour should be reserved for Corryvreckan]. The writing is, as you would expect from James Robertson, melodious, lyrical and quite entrancing. The storytelling and characters are Dickensian. The humour will have you grinning from page to page, and sometimes laughing out loud [probably not to be recommended on a No 11 bus in Lothian Road, Edinburgh, unless you relish disparaging looks].
This book is truly an event. It is an astonishing tour de force by an author at the peak of his powers. Long may he continue to write books of this calibre.