O Caledonia

Janet lies murdered beneath the castle stairs, oddly attired in her mother's black lace wedding dress, lamented only by her pet jackdaw... 
In this, her first novel, Elspeth Barker evokes the unrelenting chill of Calvinism and the Scottish climate; it's a world of isolation and loneliness, where Barker's young protagonist turns to increasingly to literature, nature, and her risque Aunt Lila, who offer brief flashes of respite in an otherwise dank and foreboding life. People, birds and beasts move in a gleeful danse macabre through the lowering landscape in a tale that is as rich and atmospheric as it is witty and mordant. The family motto - Moriens sed Invictus (Dying but Unconquered) - is a fitting epitaph for wild, courageous Janet, and her determination to remain steadfastly herself even as events overtake her.
Praise for Elspeth Barker:
‘Elspeth Barker’s is a wholly original literary voice. … In O Caledonia the reader finds unalloyed joy, and occasional winces, on every page.’
(The Independent)
‘Barker’s love of the classics, her focus on mothers and daughters, and her remarkable evocation of landscape, should mark her out as one of Scotland’s principal writers.’
(The Financial Times)
‘A poetic and passionate description of adolescence. The words sing in their sentences. A world is evoked that has shades of the Bronte sisters and of Poe – the misunderstood and brilliant child with secret and unseen companions, a misfit who develops into a brooding young woman – and so provokes her own fate. O Caledonia sets dreams and longing against Scottish righteousness and judgement, and the resolution is the blade of a skinning knife.’
(The Times)
‘O Caledonia is like a bunch of flowers. Vivid images are handed to the reader one after the other and the colours are often freakish.’
(The Guardian)
‘Beautifully written… a remarkable debut, in a long and fertile tradition of Scottish writing.’
(The Times Literary Supplement)
‘A poetic and blackly comic account of an unhappy childhood in a remote setting, recreated so sensuously it makes you feel the wind on the heath… Exquisite.’
(The Independent on Sunday)
‘Witty, civilised… with ravishing descriptions of nature which manage to be simultaneously rapturous and precise.’ 
(The New York Review)
‘Animals, Sir Walter Scott’s “alert and wild” Caledonia, and literature are central to Elspeth Barker’s marvellously worked and wielded first novel. It is usually invidious to praise by comparison. But the love of words, the recognition of their power to give a pulse-beat to narrative, made me think of Djuna Barnes as I read, and re-read, for pleasure O Caledonia.’
(The Glasgow Herald)
‘O Caledonia is a novel which, like its heroine, is unique. … Poetry flows as rich as blood through the veins of this narrative.’
(The Scotsman)
‘Janet’s shocking story is one of psychic unraveling, which Barker traces in profoundly seductive prose, extraordinary in its sweeping narrative force and haunted gothic beauty.’
(The List)
‘In the 150 pages of O Caledonia, there is barely a wasted word, and though it, too, participates of genre fiction – in this case, the Gothic – it wears the burden of form lightly enough to take advantage of it by confounding our expectations. Without apparent effort, it achieves what others flail at: It gives us goose-bumps from riding an intellectual roller coaster.’
(The Boston Globe)
100 (approx)
November 2014