a preoccupation with anti-heroes:
almost faithless voids and phantoms ...
other trees struck by lightning,
impotent as daylight –
residues; threads forgotten.
unlearning ... life-long friends –
who believe in words
but deny their meanings ...
things burned out.
fugitives running from
their roots ... (metaphysics) ...
into blind alleys;
again in chains.
10 June 1978
My wife has just finished reading Ian Rankin’s published first novel, The Flood.. He wrote it in the mid-eighties while still at university. I say ‘published’ because, technically, it wasn’t his first novel. In the book’s introduction he writes:
I'd already written one novel, entitled Summer Rites, a black comedy set in a hotel in the Scottish Highlands. The plot revolved around a one-legged schizophrenic librarian, a young boy with special powers, and the abduction of a famous American novelist by the 'provisional wing" of the Scottish National Party. Curiously, no one had seemed to agree with my judgment that Summer Rites was a fully realised contender for the title of Great Scottish Novel.
It would, of course, be years before I’d try my hand at a novel—by which time Rankin was a household name—but the young Rankin and the young me did have one thing in common: the arrogance of youth. I’m afraid I’m sentimentally attached to ‘Les Étrangers’ and am ill-qualified to judge its worth even after all these years but I do recall that at the time I thought it was a full-blown work of genius even if I did misspell the title (‘Les Estrangers’).
I have talked before about how full of myself I was as a young writer. Carrie says that this is where Rankin and I differ. He handles his early efforts with “panache”—he embraces the cocky youth he once was—whereas I tend towards the apologetic. So let me just say, for the record, that when I read this old poem of mine I get the same frisson of excitement now as I did the day I wrote it. It has lost none of its power. Not for me at least.
Like Summer Rites ‘Les Étrangers’ never found a publisher.