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Neil Gunn: Wild Geese Overhead

Like many of Gunn’s novels, this very nearly descends into the mawkish and melodramatic but Gunn’s skill just manages to keep it from the abyss. Will is a young journalist who, when out walking one day in the countryside, to escape from Glasgow, sees a flock of wild geese. These geese become the symbol of Will’s rejection of the city and its values and his adoption of the countryside, which, for Gunn, represents a far more positive outlook than the dark satanic mills of the city. Will immediately tries to find lodgings nearby and manages to do so with Mrs. Armstrong. Most of the book recounts Will’s love for the countryside, as compared to the misery he sees, as a journalist, in the city (slums, industrial accidents, drunkenness, brutality) and his growing love for Jenny, the niece of Mrs. Armstrong and whom he meets tending Mrs. Armstrong’s garden but who, at first, firmly rebuffs him. Indeed, it is only when Will nearly dies, after having been beaten up that Jenny and Will become close. There is no doubt that Gunn’s love is for the country and that he rejects the city and its ways. This is one of his few books to be set in a city and he leaves no doubt that the city is not for him.

Publishing history

First published 1939 by Faber and Faber