zeroed through two walls and into her ear, bloomed there like a bomb.
The way his voice could do that, just find her out: through precast concrete and pebbledash like a heat-seeking missile, straight through solid structures. The windows not even open.
For anyone unfamiliar with this publication, the original Edinburgh Review was established in 1802, and passed through four distinct periods, four different incarnations, before coming to an end in late 2014. The modern version of the E.R. began in 1984 with the combined issue 67/68 publication, which had the epigraph: “To gather all the rays of culture into one”. The final print edition was issue 141. The list of writers, poets, critics, stories, essays, poems, features, and excerpts that were published in this period is absolutely endless, it is incredible, and a brief (and highly subjective) compilation of its dazzling artistic highs can tell only a fraction of its story …
In terms of fiction, there was previously unpublished work by Alexander Trocchi (On fait ce qu’on pent in issue #97: ‘Trans(I/A)tlanguage’ (1997), eds: R.A.Jamieson & G.Wallace), an excerpt from one of my favourite novels, Rolling by Thomas Healy (#87 ‘The GulfWatch Papers’ (1992), ed: M.Macdonald), Agnes Owens’ Commemoration Day (issue 67/8 (1984), ed: P.Kravitz), the linked stories Trapped and Trapped Again by Bernard Maclaverty (#120: ‘Causeway, New Writing from Northern Ireland’ (2007), ed: B.McCabe), and some fantastic poetry from the American writer Sandra Cisneros, including the beautiful I Am on My Way to Oklahoma to Bury the Man I Nearly Left My Husband For (#117: ‘El Otra Lado, Poetry and Prose from Latina and Chicana Writers (2006), ed: B.McCabe).
In two issues, #82 (1989, ed: P.Kravitz) and #126 (2009, ed: B.McCabe), James Kelman and Tom Leonard contributed material of a staggering artistic quality – firstly, the extract from Kelman’s novel ‘A Disaffection’ (#82, pp25-38) and Leonard’s poetic sequence nora’s place (39-57), then Kelman’s story Vacuum (#126, pp5-9) and Leonard’s essay ‘The Common Breath’ (pp48-60) were, to my mind, real zeniths for the publication, distinguished even among the many years and many reams of eclectic, amazing work that the E.R. editors were able to publish in the print edition’s lifespan (issue #82 also included an article from a young Muriel Gray).
There were so many, many magnificent essays featured over the years – Alasdair Gray’s ‘Thoughts Suggested by Agnes Owens’ Gentlemen of the West, and an appreciation of it’ (#71, 1985, ed: P.Kravitz), ‘Alexander Trocchi: A survey’ by Edwin Morgan (#70, 1985, ed: P.Kravitz), an essay by Janice Galloway which had the full title…
In more recent issues, I very much enjoyed Alan Warner’s tenderly-written review of the New Collected Poems of Iain Crichton-Smith (#133 (2000), ed: A.Gillis), Willy Maley at the height of his productive powers with both an essay on Alasdair Gray (‘Fifty Shades of Gray: Empire, Inequality, and Empowerment in Poor Things’) and a review of Kelman’s Mo Said She Was Quirky in the same issue (#136, 2012, ed: A.Gillis), and a very powerful critique entitled ‘A Submerged Population’ written by Will Brady, focusing on the latent racism and racist policies of the contemporary Australian state, by way of considering both a movie called Jindabyne and the famous Raymond Carver story, So Much Water So Close To Home. This was published as part of issue #122: belongin place, New Writing from Australia (2008), ed: B.McCabe. Indeed, many times the E.R. would dedicate whole editions to the study and promotion of literature from other cultures: Ukrainian poets (#86), voices from Africa (#118), the city of Calcutta (#129), Poland (#121), the Caribbean (#123), China (#124), Turkey (#125), Iraq (#127), Czech language writers (#128), and Japan (#129).
It seems that even when the content was bad it was good, as I found Ian Rankin’s essay ‘Why Crime Fiction Is Good For You’ to be, for want of a better phrase, a load of old Rebus, with its unconvincing arguments and frequent inaccuracies – but how great to have issues dedicated to singular thematic or generic concerns, such as crime fiction (#102, 1999, ed: A.Thomson), Scottish philosophy (#89, 1993, ed: M.Macdonald), or the concept of ‘bad’ language in fiction (#95, 1996, eds: Jamieson & Wallace), an issue that was worth reading for the introductory essay alone, which quoted June Jordan, Tom Leonard and Albert Camus in order to confront the validity of its central question. While the single-author editions on Janice Galloway (‘Exchanges’, 2004, ed: L.Jackson) and James Kelman (#108: ‘Kelman and Commitment’, 2001, ed: R.Turnbull) permitted highly concentrated investigations of the work of two of our greatest literary artists (I particularly like the essay ‘In Juxtaposition to Which’ by Lee Spinks in the Kelman volume).
Great writer interviews were another characteristically strong feature, with fascinating interactions between Sophy Dale and Alan Warner (#103, 2000, ed: A.Thomson), in which Warner spoke in some detail about his favoured writers such as Gogol and Kelman, but also introduced many readers (myself included) to lesser-known artists such as Onetti and Roberto Arlt, while in issue #84 Jenny Turner and the great experimental novelist Christine Brooke-Rose recorded a dialogue titled ‘Reclaim the Brain’ (1990, ed: P.Kravitz), Aaron Kelly enjoyed a highly entertaining discussion with Irvine Welsh (#113, 2004, ed: R.Turnbull), and probably my favourite single piece ever included in the E.R., Duncan McLean’s incredible, seminal interview with James Kelman in issue #71 (1985, ed: P.Kravitz).
Letters and reviews were avenues within the Review that could provide humorous or surprising content – I think of the acrimonious exchange between the writer and critic Geoff Dyer and the E.R.’s John McTernan, in response to McTernan’s essay on Dyer’s book about John Berger, Ways of Telling (#76, 1987, ed: P.Kravitz), and James Kelman decrying the planned closure of the Philosophy dept at Strathclyde Uni in issue #83 (1990, ed: P.Kravitz). The brief introduction of ‘condensed’ reviews in 2001 was more light-hearted, and often downright funny, with an anonymous reviewer who wasted neither words nor sentiment on the material at hand – here are two such book reviews in full (both from #106, 2001, ed: R.Turnbull):
Of course serious, in-depth reviews were a staple of the magazine, and Robert Alan Jamieson’s insightful assessment of Bucket of Tongues by Duncan McLean in 1993 (#89, ed: M.Macdonald) is a perfect example.
One of the most memorable moments in the publication’s history was the centrepiece of issue #110: ‘Scotland 1802-2002, figures, ideas, formations’ (2002, ed: R.Turnbull), an extended feature entitled ‘Selection from the Edinburgh Review’ and compiled by Ross Alloway, which gave readers the opportunity to view articles from the original E.R. – these included William Hazlitt evaluating Coleridge’s poetry in September 1816, and Walter Scott writing a review of a cookery book in 1805.
This list is merely my own collation of some of the greatest works in the E.R.’s history, but there are so many, many more. I’m certain that a more informed devotee of the publication could provide a similarly long and formidable catalogue of their own treasured highlights, focusing on altogether different strands and different voices. My only hope is that I have succeeded in providing evidence of the great variety and exceptional quality of the work done by the Review’s writers and editors through the decades, and in doing so, have formed something akin to a fitting tribute.
Since I appeared at the University of Glasgow in the year 2001 as a plooky-faced and dullwitted teenage undergrad (who would very soon drop out and return to factorywork), it was always an ambition to one day have some writing published in the E.R. For the longest time, this seemed hopelessly far away, and light years out of reach. This was a publication that would often feature the greatest prose writers our country has ever produced, Alasdair Gray and Kelman and Jackie Kay and A.L. Kennedy, alongside uni professors, linguists, bloody world-class philosophers, and so on, so forth. It was one of the happiest moments of my existence in early 2014 when, at long last, my short story Mr Summers was included in issue number 139 (the story remains available via the still-running Edinburgh Review website). It is unquestionably the story publication I am most proud of. If I achieve nothing else in the writing world, I am there, I always will be there, a tiny, irrelevant, utterly sub-standard, but very proudly present part of a magnificent literary tradition.
That the print publication ceased a mere two issues later was a tragedy. A very genuine tragedy for arts and culture in our country, which is now a profoundly poorer place for its absence. This is not hyperbole. There is not and will never be another publication to match it, and it is gone. I feel this very keenly every time I visit the level 9 annexe in Glasgow Uni library, which houses a large quantity of the back issues. Last weekend, I opened a copy off the shelf at random (issue 73, 1986) and found a cracking short essay by Brian McCabe commemorating the career of an artist whose work I admire very much, the great Jewish American novelist and short-story writer, Bernard Malamud (1914-1986). Where can we encounter work of this calibre now? Registered students may be able to find a drier, more academic take online via Project MUSE or equivalents, but what about the rest of us, the un-matriculated but impassioned masses? And what avenue is there to encourage folk to still be (voluntarily) putting pen to paper in order to write and record feelings and responses and analyses of such major authors from other times and places?
It is a very small solace to know that the final print edition, the 141st, was a spectacular one, including a tribute to the great Agnes Owens, and contributions from James Kelman, Alasdair Gray, Alan Warner, Peter Kravitz, and Janice herself – just some of the most pivotal figures in making that publication what it was, creating and enshrining the tradition of the modern Edinburgh Review through their continuing and wonderful artistry and commitment. If it had to end, it did so gloriously, in a fashion thoroughly befitting of its bloodline. A note of credit must given to the editor at that time, Alan Gillis, and his team (including Jennie Renton and Lynsey May).
Our libraries that contain these back issues will continue to be a priceless resource for the generations and the centuries to come. Its value to our literary landscape and heritage simply cannot be overstated.