A Street Shaken by Light by James Buchan - review by Paul Bailey

Paul Bailey

The Long Arm of John Law

A Street Shaken by Light

By

Mountain Leopard Press 272pp £16.99
 

James Buchan’s new novel, the first of a proposed series of six called The Family of William Neilson, could be described as an exercise in picaresque. It’s narrated in the first person, in 18th-century English (and a few other languages, including Persian), by the said William Neilson. ‘In the year 1720, at my age of sixteen years and some months, I went forth from the kingdom of Scotland into France’ is the arresting sentence with which his brisk and confident narrative begins. He then informs the reader – an invisible person of whom he is always aware – that his father has ‘died that midsummer of the stone’ and that his dear mother, no longer financially secure, is finding it difficult to look after her eldest son as well as his younger brothers and sisters.

It’s fortunate for William that he did well at high school and that his tutors thought so highly of his progress in arithmetic that they recommended him to a merchant in Rotterdam. All this information is conveyed on the very first page. With the two words ‘Thus wise’, a

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