by Ian MacLeod for Waterstones, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow
Robert Burns is on our Sterling £10 note, Jane Austen on the old lady of Threadneedle Street’s. When Anna ‘Nan’ Shepherd was unveiled as the face of the new blue five in 2016, the question might well have been whispered, who? Born in 1893, a trio of novels published in her thirties, and then a life spent lecturing in English at a teacher training college near Aberdeen, the choice of figure seemed remarkably unremarkable. But, when in 1977, a manuscript that had lived in a drawer for almost forty years was published, the decision became doubtless. That book was The Living Mountain, one of thee great books of the twentieth century.
In Charlotte Peacock’s biography, the first for this quiet colossus of our literary landscape, the life of Nan Shepherd is revealed naturally, poetically. Letters to and from Jessie Kesson and Neil Gunn form a deep grounding of the book, and archival findings move on some clouds from the life of an immensely private writer. Peacock reveals how Shepherd’s early novels form an autobiography of their own, and positions her in the midst of the British modernist canon. It is a book reflective of its subject – philosophical, almost plaintive in parts, highminded and will hopefully lead you (back) to Shepherd’s own writing.
One last note, Into the Mountain is tribute to the fading tradition of letters between friends, correspondence, of finding time. Shepherd is drawn as measured, immoveable yet fluid, a frozen Cairngorm burn that’s running underneath: ‘Knowing another is endless…I am an image in a ball of glass. The world is suspended there, and I in it’.
Waterstones, Sauchiehall St is the largest bookshop in Scotland, and home to Glasgow’s book-loving citizens and visitors alike.