A review of John Inglis’ book Finvola

Finvola, a review by Heather Gough.

In his novella, Finvola, John Inglis has created an entirely believable heroine of Scottish clan society in the sixteenth century during the reign of James VI.

That credibility comes about partly as a result of painstaking and impressive research alongside considerable existing knowledge of Scottish history and Hebridean culture; partly because of the depiction of the humanity and courage of the young female at the story’s centre.

The author also cleverly conflates incidents from the reign of James V as well as James VI in order to lend excitement to a plot which shows the precarious nature of life in that society as well as the vulnerability to violent elements within neighbouring clans, political masters from the south and rivals beyond from Ireland and England.

In addition, there is endless detail of everyday life of sixteenth century life on Skye which gives a real authenticity to the setting. For example, Finvola’s mother boils fish in the steel helmet which her husband wears in battle and when it is ready empties the helmet over the heather so that the fish gets caught in the branches immediately to be gobbled up by the family.

One of the really interesting features is that, had the reader not been told that this was the sixteenth century, it would be easy to think that it was set much earlier, even in Viking times which indicates how little the domestic life of the clans changed over many centuries and how that life contrasted with Lowland Scotland.

Finvola’s story from young girl to married woman takes her on an adventure fraught with danger and suffering but also of love, loyalty and incredible resourcefulness. In this way, although she must obey the paternalistic rules of clan society, she is a sixteenth century feminist in her way believing that there is nothing she cannot achieve if she has courage.

A recommended read for anyone interested in Hebridean history and culture and the plight of women within that history.

Finvola is available in the Book and Card shop, Brodick, The Harbour Shop Blackwaterfoot and at Marvin Elliott’s workshop, Corrie. Price £5.