Monday, 11 January 2010

The Tin-Kin


I read The Tin-Kin by Eleanor Thom at the tail-end of 2009 and it squeezed into my Best of 2009 post. An accomplished and resonant début, The Tin-Kin is set in 1990s Northern Scotland. Dawn, a single mother of a young daughter, Maeve, returns to her stifling home-town upon the death of her aunt. Dawn hasn't been home for years, leaving her violent ex-husband before Maeve was born; she has barely been in contact with her family until news of her aunt Shirley's death. Dawn lived with Shirley from a young age, was close to her and inherited her flat (apartment), in which she is presented with the cupboard that Shirley kept locked and told inquisitive child Dawn that in it were all of her aunt's secrets; now Dawn has inherited those secrets and in the revelation of these, her family history is re-written.


And somewhere she would find the key to the cupboard. If there was a secret, maybe it was supposed to be discovered like this, only after Shirley was gone.


Alternating with the modern-day narrative are first-person narratives from the 1950s; these narratives are told from the perspectives of three members of the one indigenous Scottish Travelling (tinkers) family: Jock, Auld Betsy and Wee Betsy. The shifts in time are never disorientating nor is the Scottish dialect, although being a Scot I probably have less trouble with it than most.

Pity, whit the settlin's done. It maks fowk bitter. Ye dinnae see wan another. It sits fine wi some, an others tak tae the drink. It's nae a lie.

Thom uses her own family history to tell an imaginative tale that she thought should be told; in the second chapter we learn that Jock is left to die on the floor of a cell, after being arrested for apparently being drunk and disorderly and the basis of that tragedy is that of Thom's grandfather whilst Uncle Jock the character is based on her great-grandfather.

This is a moving story and I was fully immersed in the lives of the family of settled Travellers; Wee Betsy's voice was particularly resonant and emotive. I was less engaged with the main character of Dawn but I suspect that she was intentionally two-dimensional to evoke her own sense of not belonging. Although the story -not a mystery as it is rather predictable- of the photographs from the 1950s that Dawn finds in Shirley's cupboard and the connection they have with the Travellers, is central to the modern premise, it is the 1950s story that had me enthralled; I would have preferred less balance and more focus on the crux of the novel. The story of the settled Travellers fascinated me; I knew little about the history of indigenous Scottish Travellers but now I am intrigued. Whilst reading, I remembered some experiences of Travellers from my own childhood, when "tinkers" came along the streets in pony-and-traps singing for "any old rags or iron" or older women who came to the door offering fortunes; I am now interested in learning more about this forgotten history and agree that Eleanor Thom told a story that had to be told.


10 comments:

savidgereads said...

This sounds like an enjoyable read. I like the challenge of the dialect, I always think dialets or phonetics are really hard to read I do not know why, and hence like to give them a go. It's not one I feel desperate to read but its one I now have on my radar. Glad you liked it.

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, it is a very enjoyable read and I'm glad it's on your radar for the future. It has a subject matter that won't appeal to everyone or cause them to rush out to read but it it is a rewarding story. I enjoy Scottish literature, of course, and glad to have read this (Thom is based in Glasgow, studied there, and her background is Scottish). I enjoy reading dialects too; it adds an extra dimension to a book and I enjoy being an active rather than passive reader when I can.

JoAnn said...

This sounds wonderful! A quick search on amazon turned up nothing - may not be available in the US yet.

Paperback Reader said...

JoAnn, how unfortunate - hopefully it will be available Stateside soon; the paperback is being released soon so perhaps then it will make it over.

LizF said...

I read this on dovegreyreader's recommendation and thought it was wonderful. I got round the dialect by reading it aloud to myself which helped - although it got me some very funny looks on the way in to work!

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Liz, thanks for commenting. It was on dovegreyreader's blog that I first saw mention of this book and I agree that it was wonderful. I imagine that you did gain some funny looks reading aloud the dialect! I didn't struggle with it and it was actually quite the nostalgic experience and reminded me of words and phrases that I haven't heard for years.

Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said...

This doesn't sound as good as I hoped it might be. I have heard a lot of people saying great things about it, but it isn't grabbing my attention. I might have a quick glance at the first few pages if I see a copy, but it isn't one I'm going to be rushing out to get.

Paperback Reader said...

Jackie, it's not something that I think you'd enjoy that much. I really enjoyed it but it was a story that appealed to me. I responded to it on a personal level and it reminded me of some other (favourite) Scottish literature, probably another reason why I liked it. I liked its heart and what it taught me.

verity said...

I think I would enjoy this, although I do struggle with dialect. The way I read doesn't really allow for sounding out dialect so I find these sort of things hard going!

Paperback Reader said...

I think you would enjoy it too but curious how you would get on with the dialect; I struggled with a few lines here and there and that's with me being Scottish but I wouldn't want it to put you off.