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FERGUS LAMONT by Robin Jenkins
ISBN 0 86241 310 9
Reviewed by Sian Gibson
(Filed 18 July 2003)
© LandCare Scotland
Fergus Lamont isnt your average rags-to-riches
tale. It does, admittedly, chronicle the heros development
from a slum child to a wealthy aristocrat and successful poet, but
it also exposes the hypocrisy and the unhappiness associated with
this rise to fame, and seems to suggest the rags were better after
On the surface, the novel depicts the central
characters search for an identity, having been informed by
his until-now absent mother that he is in fact related to the Earl
of Darndaff. Fergus embraces different characters the soldier,
the poet, the aristocrat but finally rejects them all in
favour of a Celtic paradise and a hermetic lifestyle, having learnt
too late what is most valuable in life.
The novel obviously interrogates ideas of individual
identity, but it also investigates Scotlands national identity,
for it seems we are intended to read the unsettled, and unsettling,
character of Fergus as representative of Scotland itself. In fact
the novel could appear to be almost prophetic, particularly since
it was first published in 1979, shortly before the referendum for
devolution in Scotland failed on a technicality.
For this same reason, now may seem an appropriate
time to return to this classic novel, for Scotland has recently
achieved a devolved parliament, and its citizens something of the
same independent status, that the eponymous hero seeks throughout
This certainly isnt the only reason for picking up Jenkinss
novel however the work in itself is a literary treat, invoking,
subverting and perhaps even mocking the tendency of literature towards
over-aggrandisement. Jenkins cleverly plays with different levels
of narrative, inverting the romance genre and using Ferguss
poems to jibe at the way that literature can elevate and celebrate
such activities as Gathering Dung.
As such, this is a book that is at times delightfully
witty, with tongue firmly in cheek, and yet also painfully poignant.
It forces the reader into an ambiguous relationship with the central
character and it calls for a re-evaluation of our own attitudes
towards our contemporaries and towards ourselves.
The novel manages all of this, and it still remains
utterly enjoyable. Fergus Lamont is an engaging story, written in
an elegant style; it is surely Robin Jenkinss greatest novel.
© LandCare Scotland