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Neil Gunn: Morning Tide

Nominally a novel about the growing up of Hugh, it is, in reality, three connected short stories, scenes from the life of Hugh, if you will. In the first, Hugh is waiting, with his sister, Kirsty, for their father and brother to return from a fishing trip. Gunn portrays, in a wonderful style, not only the agony of waiting – the inevitable storm breaks out – but gives a wonderful description of the boats, returning, one by one, during the storm and how they enter the small harbour with great difficulty. The second scene is about a fishing expedition Hugh makes with his brother Alan, the night before Alan is to leave for Australia with their sister, Grace, and two (male) friends. They torment the gamekeeper, hang out with old Hector, who tells them tales, and even spy on their sister with her boyfriend, Charlie Chisholm. The final scene is the near-death of their mother, which Hugh and his sister, Kirsty, have to deal with, as Alan and Grace are in Australia.

We learn a little about Hugh’s growing up and becoming a man – school, fishing, girls, facing death – but what makes this book enjoyable is Gunn’s natural gift for poetic language and evoking the period in that part of Scotland – difficult times but one where the people stuck together and rose above their economic hardships or, if they could not, got out. Gunn takes us to this struggling community with their economic problems and, while he can sink into the mawkish at times, still makes us feel that these people are real.

Publishing history

First published 1931 by The Porpoise Press