Review of ‘Fuaran Ceann an t-Saoghail’ from the Stornoway Gazette
‘Fuaran Ceann an t-Saoghail’ is Aonghas Pàdraig Caimbeul’s (Angus Peter Campbell’s) fifth Gaelic novel and, I think, his best. It’s a short novel, running to just 108 pages, but that precision makes it all the better, for here is a whole Gaelic world in miniature.
The novel itself is set in a nursing home in Uist and centres round an old lady, Criosaidh NicDhòmhnaill, who is beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s/Dementia. The story is told from four different viewpoints : Criosaidh tells her story, but at the same time she is being recorded by a visiting crew from the BBC and the young reporter gives his version too, as does young Chrissie NicGhriogair who is charge of the home and a woman doctor from Harris, another Criosaidh – this time Criosaidh NicRath who tends to the old woman in her last days.
This is a novel which is essentially about memory and the importance and function of memory. Criosaidh NicDhòmhnaill’s memory may be faltering but is none the less authentic and real for all that. As an author, Angus Peter Campbell here raises important questions about the relationship between imagination and memory, or between ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’: who is to say that what we imagine is any less (or any more) important than what ‘actually’ happened.
He also flags up the issue of how we all tend to ‘classify’ or grade memory, according to its seeming importance. The young BBC reporter has an agenda, of course: to record Criosaidh’s dualchas or beul-aithris, in the form of songs and traditions and stories before she dies, and Criosaidh seems aware of that ‘game’. She in turn gives equal importance to her reading of Will and Wag in the People’s Friend or to the Tupperware Evenings she attended once upon a time. These memories of Criosaidh’s lie side-by-side with more ‘significant’ memories, connected with her childhood, her marriage and her family.
Campbell adds a very interesting layer to the story by inter-weaving into the novel the ‘story’ of the young (male) BBC reporter. To what degree is Criosaidh’s life-story edited or at least filtered by the perspectives of a young man of the 21st century who is only a quarter of her age?
To reflect the four different perspectives within the novel the publishers Clàr have imaginatively chosen four different fonts to distinguish the different voices which makes it easy to understand who is telling the tale at which particular point. Another interesting thing about this short novel is the lovely typographical layout, which gives us clear ‘blocks’ on the page as it were, rather than indented paragraphs. Sometimes, because of that the novel reads like poetic prose, and is all the better for that. It’s altogether a lovely mixture of Dùthchas agus Nuadhachas – Tradition and Modernity.
The design and layout for the novel was done by Lewis-based artist Donald Smith who has done a wonderful job in giving us a clear, easily readable text. I particularly enjoyed reading the hand-written font when Dr Criosaidh NicRath tells her side of the story. The front cover too is attractive, with a lovely old black and white photograph by the late Dr Kenneth Robertson of South Uist on the cover.
Ultimately, this is a short novel, very simply written at one level, with a hopeful message: although it concerns itself vividly with memory, and how we remember and recall and imagine things, it finishes off by opening up into the future. Chrissie NicGhriogair, on holiday in one of the Greek islands, watches two young children releasing a bright, colourful kite into the air. It's a message which says that freedom and the imagination are more importanat than gravity and weight.