Jenni Fagan with Denise Mina: A City, a Curse and a Century of Secrets
Fri 15 Jan 19:00 - 20:00
Once in a while, a novel arrives that changes the way that we see and experience a place that we think we already know so well. Edinburgh is a city brimming with stories: almost every building whispers history and holds secrets, stashed away in the stonework. And Jenni Fagan’s spectacular third novel Luckenbooth takes us to the heart of the city and its people.
Join the critically acclaimed Edinburgh-based author of The Panopticon and the The Sunlight Pilgrims in her very first event about her new book, to coincide with its launch, alongside another of our favourite authors, the Glaswegian crimewriter and playwright Denise Mina. Together they dive into the depths of the remarkable Luckenbooth, a dazzling literary work of history and ambition that marks a major moment in the literary life of Edinburgh. The event will be broadcast live and you'll be able to ask the author questions using our online Q&A. For more information click here.
Luckenbooth spans nearly a century in the tenement at 10 Luckenbooth Close. It begins in 1910 as the devil’s daughter rows a coffin to the shores of Leith, sold by her father to a rich couple to have their child. The tragic events that follow lead to a curse that will plague the lives of the eclectic collection of tenement residents. In her novel told over nine decades and up and down nine floors, Fagan gifts readers lessons of history as the building and its inhabitants bear witness to the changing world outside the tenement walls.
To mark the launch we asked Jenni to name a favourite book from each decade of the novel, scroll down to see what she chose.
Kafka is cited as an influence on many Scottish writers from Trocchi, Kelman, Tom Leonard, Alan Warner, Ali Smith to myself and many more.
The Metamorphosis is a brilliant modernist story and it greatly inspired in some way, my approach for Luckenbooth.
The very first English translation of this was done by Willa and Edwin Muir in Scotland. Willa was one of Scotland’s foremost feminists and writers.
Scottish writers have long been heavily influenced by European modernist literature, we are linked in our surrealism, darkness, intellect, the use of horror and social subversion to expose the undesirable truths of humanity.
Her evocation of the Hebrides as a place in which the sea is ‘stretched like silk across the bay,’ earns its place here, her ability to move between characters, location and landscape is something that reminds me of walking around Edinburgh in all seasons.
Virginia Woolf’s use of stream of consciousness and free indirect is an influence. I understood it more after reading How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman too as he uses it to such a high standard.
I too have a love for Skye and all Scottish Islands, so this novel takes me there. Luckenbooth starts on an unnamed island, a tiny one, far North, where Jessie MacRae (my protagonist) was raised.
Discovering the work of Gertrude Stein felt like finding a missing space on my bookshelf had been filled by something I was looking for. I am also influenced by some of her poetry. I love her deliberate use of repetition and how she creates sketches of characters as in her Portrait of Picasso.
I love to read about her life in Paris and the salon she shared with her wife Alice B. Toklas. It is a place I would have loved to visit. They had such strong relationships with artists, poets, thinkers and writers.
In Luckenbooth we find Gertrude Stein is mentioned, as one of the writers that my characters in the 1910 decade go to visit, in fact they meet Picasso and dare slur that he isn’t even painting at the time, he’s off in Florence having a love affair, of course it is a fictionalised world that visits real ones and in turn alters them, heightens and disturbs reality.
Gertrude Stein was writing through surrealism and she experimentated in form and technique. Her wife Alice is the narrator in this book, drawing in their lives and realities, she talks of Leo Stein, Cezanne, Matisse, Vollard and Guillaime Appollinaire and lots of Cubist artists and arguing with people like T.S. Eliot. I love the feel of these characters and how the form of autobiography is enhanced, not hindered, by reality.
Written on the Isle of Jura where he had gone to escape the furore that had arisen after publication of Animal Farm.
The political take of this novel, the exploration of power, abuse of privilege and social structures and how they impact individuals is an ongoing muse of mine.
As someone raised by the state, I recognised so many interesting truths in Orwell’s work, we also share the same publisher, which I love. The themes of inequality and the individual vs the State, recur in all of my work, Luckenbooth is responding particularly to patriarchy, capitalism, gender, and narcissism.
I have selected various literary mothers in my lifetime. I discovered Maya Angelou when I was still a teenager, I turned to her work many times to understand the clarity of her voice, the power of her intellect, the ability she has to depict all kinds of difficult circumstances without lessening them or dropping into voyeurism or victimhood. Angelou explores her own human condition as fearlessly as she does others and is still funny, wise, clever and humane. Her stories and worlds always feel real. It’s something I always hope to achieve, despite the distance I may travel from cold hard reality.
The year I was born in a Victorian psychiatric hospital, The Shining was published. This classic American horror is about a building that has a dark power. The hotel houses its ghosts and its living with equal terror and truth. It is a novel that has long called to me. From the ability to ‘shine,’ which I understood as a child, to the extraordinary imagery, it is an iconic novel that became a vital part of popular culture. I also feel the literary themes and questions on human evolution, the mind, consciousness, sanity and autonomy often get a little lost by those who dismiss it is as ‘genre,’ fiction!
I read this over the course of a few days whilst living in a bedsit, in my mid-teens and out on my own in the world — this book called to me profoundly. Its depiction of isolation, of the less discussed or socially acceptable experiences women go through, the inner life, mental health, sexuality, consciousness, all of those things — are depicted utterly brilliantly in this book. It became one of my favourites as soon as I read it. It is a classic work of literature.
This novel was published when I was fifteen-years old and had just left school. I read it, like many others of my generation, with a sense of overwhelming recognition for a culture and language that we had not been seen by a writer of our times.
The style, intellect, drive, energy and sheer velocity of flawed humanity was compelling and influential.
For some reason I feel it is too often overlooked as a literary work that depicts a culture just as much as many other writers do in different ways — Down and Out in Paris and London by Orwell, Journey to the End of Night by Celine, The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al-Aswaany, Alice Walker’s mighty novel The Color Purple, William Burroughs (who appears in Luckenbooth) or the inimitable and formidable intellect of James Baldwin, ZZ Packer, Hunter S. Thompson — so many more.
The idea that Scottish literature exists in a vacuum where, if it depicts working class culture, it can only contain a mono-reality that is resolutely inward, — is something that still bemuses me.
Trainspotting kicked many doors down, for good reason, it wasn’t playing nicely and it is all the better for it.