Published Aug 1991
Janet lies murdered beneath the castle stairs, oddly attired in her mother’s black lace wedding dress, lamented only by her pet jackdaw…
In O Caledonia, Elspeth Barker evokes the unrelenting chill of Calvinism and the Scottish climate. This is a world of isolation and loneliness, where Barker’s young protagonist turns increasingly to literature, nature, and her risqué Aunt Lila, who offers 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.
First published in 1991, O Caledonia won the Royal Society of Literature’s Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize, The David Higham Prize, The Scottish Book Prize and The Angel Literary Award. It was also shortlisted for The Whitbread First Novel Award.
Praise for O Caledonia:
‘Wholly original… In O Caledonia the reader finds unalloyed joy, and occasional winces, on every page.’ – The Independent
‘Remarkable evocation of landscape… One of Scotland’s principal writers.’ – The Financial Times
‘A poetic and passionate description of adolescence… O Caledonia sets dreams and longing against Scottish righteousness and judgement, and the resolution is the blade of a skinning knife.’ – The Times