I have just finished re-reading my favourite book, Sunset Song, probably for the fifth or sixth time. It’s a book I first read as a student in secondary school―hated―and then fell in love with.
The novel tells the story of Chris Guthrie. Born into a farming family in the north-east of Scotland as the 20th century begins. The ‘Song’ is divided into sections that follow the farming year and mirror Chris’s own life; The Unfurrowed Field, Ploughing, Drilling, Seed-time, Harvest and then, once again, The Unfurrowed Field.
Like many students I really struggled with the prelude to this book when I first read it as a teenager. It’s written very differently to the Song, without the strong first-person narrative. I’m pretty sure that I would have read this book as Something To Be Read For School (a chore) but there must have been some reason that I was left with a desire to read this book again at some point the future.
Each time I have read the book as an adult I have been struck by different aspects of the story. With this most recent reading I was more aware of the pace of the story and struck by the small size of the geographical area in which it is set.
The language of the Song is unashamedly Scottish (or pseudo-Scottish) and agricultural — “education’s dirt and you’re better clear of it”. People are fine or course, from good stock or course stock. But the language also has a fine, delicate, poetry such as the example below.
“That died, and the Chris of the books and the dreams died with it, or you folded them up in their paper of tissue and laid them away by the dark, quiet corpse that was your childhood.”
And this expresses the theme of the book―nothing endures. Through Chris’s eyes we witness the end of a way of life, the end of the small tenant farmer and even the end of the land.
I wonder what I will enjoy next time I read this Desert Island book?