Introduced by Diarmid Gunn. Written in prose as cool and clear as the water it describes, Highland River is one of Neil Gunn's most lyrical and popular novels. Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial prize when first published in 1937, it has over the years become established as one of the greatest pieces of twentieth century Scottish fiction. The 'northern river' of the title is the physical and spiritual focus of the novel and the source to which Kenn, the central character returns. Looking back over his life from the disillusioned thirties, the river becomes symbolic of both what has been lost and what has endured. From an idyllic childhood spent in the Highlands through the terrible slaughter of the First World War, Kenn's reminiscences eventually lead him back to the river that has haunted his imagination for so many years. Its effect on him is profound and the culmination of this poetic masterpiece. 'Looked at either as a saga of the spirit or as a story dressed in all the circumstances of Highland loveliness, Mr Gunn's book has a deep and moving appeal.' Evening Standard 'Highland River is a novel of unusual distinction.' Irish Independent 'The book must be read as one would listen to music . . . scenes are projected with a crystal clarity, sharply defined, with an odd double quality of intense immediacy and a sort of enclosed detachment.' Times Literary Supplement
Neil M. Gunn (1891-1973), was born in Dunbeath, Caithness. Gunn was educated at his village school until the age of twelve and at fifteen he became a clerk in the Civil Service, working in London and Edinburgh until he joined the Customs and Excise in 1911 and came to stay in Inverness. Gunn continued to work for the Excise during the First World War in which three of his family lost their lives; his brother and closest friend John, (whose story is told in Highland River), was badly gassed. Gunn married his Dingwall girlfriend Daisy Frew in 1921 returning the following year to the Highlands where he settled down and began to write seriously. His first novel, The Grey Coast, appeared in 1926, followed by The Lost Glen (serialised in 1928), and Morning Tide, a Book Society choice, in 1930. He turned to ancient history with Sun Circle (1933), and to the Highland clearances, with Butcher's Broom (1934), before calling up his own childhood again in Highland River, which won great acclaim and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1937. Supported by T.S. Eliot and Faber, who had become his publishers, Gunn turned to full-time writing, producing the autobiographical Off in a Boat in 1938, followed by another huge success with the epic novel, The Silver Darlings (1941). Short stories, plays, articles and more novels followed. Gunn's last book was The Atom of Delight (1956), an autobiography which reflected on his life-long fascination with the Zen-like and elusive spirit of life, wisdom and delight. He continued to work as an essayist and broadcaster until his death in 1973. The Neil Gunn International Fellowship has been established in his honour.
* Looked at either as a sage of the spirit or as a story dressed in all the circumstances of Higland loveliness, Mr Gunn's book has a deep and moving appeal. Evening Standard * Highland River is a novel of unusual distinction. Irish Independent * This book must be read as one would listen to music ... scenes are projected with a crystal clarity, sharply defined, with an odd double quality of intense immediacy and a sort of enclosed detachment. Times Literary Supplement