Duncan McLean: Blackden
Paddy Hunter is an eighteen-year old who lives in the town of Blackden. The novel tells of a weekend in his life, a weekend in which he wants to leave Blackden. His sister, Helen, has done well and gone to Edinburgh University. His father is dead. His main form of communication with his mother is by the notes they leave one another on the kitchen table. This particular weekend she has gone to visit Helen in Edinburgh, so he is on his own. His weekend starts with a visit to his grandparents. In one of her notes, his mother had instructed him to heat up a Yankee doodle pie for them. But there are distractions, starting with his Auntie Heather. What he really wants to do is get away and go out with a girl. He is further delayed at his grandparents’ house when his grandfather tells him the story of a German plane that crashed into a hill nearby during the War.
The rest of the novel is a wonderful telling of Paddy’s journey round the village that evening. It could have been and, indeed, in some parts is the story of an angry, embittered young man looking for beer and sex. He has his job. He is an auctioneer’s assistant and, on the Saturday, he has to help set up an auction. Apart from that he is on his own. What distinguishes Paddy from the young lads we meet – concerned with dirty jokes and beer and sex and not much more – is that firstly he is a dreamer and, secondly, while he may be sceptical and critical, he is not a total cynic, appreciating the place where he lives and what it means.
Of course, he has girl trouble. He is attracted to Shona but she is more interested in a local yob. But it is Shona who tells him about a witches’ sabbath and this acts as both a sexual stimulant for him as well as getting him interested in his home town. In the end he realises that living where he is was like spending your whole life whizzing round and round the walls of the den like a motorbiker on a wall of death but maybe that might be all right. McLean could have given us the bog-standard anarchic rebel Scot trying to get away, whether geographically or psychologically, or even the Scottish Holden Caulfield but he doesn’t. What he does give us is a well-written and original account of an eighteen year old who still has a long way to go.
First published 1994 by Secker & Warburg