The Black Eden by Richard T Kelly - review by Sam Kitchener

Sam Kitchener

Drill, Baby, Drill

The Black Eden


Faber & Faber 464pp £20

Fleeing gangsters through an indigenous reservation in Tintin in America, the boy reporter stumbles upon an oil geyser. Within minutes, oil executives converge on Tintin, brandishing contracts: ‘Five thousand dollars for your oil well’; ‘Don’t listen to that crook … ten thousand dollars for your oil well!’ When Tintin reveals that the oil belongs to the local Blackfoot tribe, the plutocrats make the chieftain a revised offer of ‘twenty-five dollars, and half an hour to pack your bags’.

Richard T Kelly’s fourth novel explores the intertwining lives of five men affected by the discovery of oil in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland during the mid-20th century. It opens with an epigraph taken from a 1972 speech by Lord Polwarth, then minister of state for Scotland: ‘We are here moving into what are largely uncharted waters … we want the oil, but we are a little frightened of what we shall do with it and what it will do to us.’ Kelly has no uncertainty about what oil did to Scotland. In his telling, just as in the Tintin tale, it maddened the already wealthy further with greed, causing misery to those with fewer resources, who found themselves caught up in the struggle for the ‘black Eden’.

Childhood friends Aaron Strang and Robbie Vallance are at the book’s moral centre. Highland crofter’s boy Robbie is good with his hands and a hit with the lassies. Aaron is the son of a schoolmaster, with a passion for geology. He nurses this interest as a secret shame,

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