Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Antiquary by Sir Walter Scott

In getting ready to read this month’s selection for our literary group, the Notting Hill Napoleons, I realized that I never got around to making any comments here at The Book Den on our last novel. Oops, my bad…and especially so because the book was a grand one which I relished and which I heartily recommend. The novel was The Antiquary by the incomparable Sir Walter Scott.

The Antiquary is one of Scott’s lesser-known novels, an unfortunate thing really, because it is also among his finest. Indeed, Scott himself thought it one of his best. It is a story set in the Scotland of the last decade of the 18th Century and features a most unusual hero, an elderly member of that special class of Scottish beggars known as the King’s Bedesmen. This clever, kind-hearted mendicant not only observes the actions of the novel’s other characters (the mysterious Isabella; the daring but equally enigmatic Lovel; a distressed Baronet; a villainous swindler and several others including the comic curmudgeon, Jonathan Oldenbuck, from whom the novel’s title derives) but is found eventually to instigate many of those actions as well. The plot is complex but thoroughly enjoyable with Scott’s talents for depicting history, romance, adventure, mystery, comedy and morality coloring the whole.

As in many of Scott’s novels, there is a fair amount of heavy dialect. I find it manageable enough (even part of the charm of reading Scott) and that was the consensus of the Napoleons that gathered in Jo's living room that evening to discuss the book. However, not all from our group shared this opinion. John, for instance, when asked earlier why he didn’t like the book very much, quipped, “It’s my own fault. When I ordered the book, I didn’t specify I wanted an English version!”

But, if you can handle the Scottish brogue, I think you’ll find The Antiquary to be a surprising reading treasure.