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Alasdair Gray's Old Men in Love: Lady Sara Sim-Jaegar on the Death of John Tunnock

(A shot I took of the interior to show you just how beautiful the book is...)

Alasdair Gray is one of Scotland's great novelists, and his latest, Old Men in Love, showcases Gray at the top of his form. It's out now from the excellent Small Beer Press here in the US. As Small Beer puts it, "Alasdair Gray’s unique melding of humor and metafiction at once hearken back to Laurence Sterne and sit beside today’s literary mash-ups with equal comfort. Old Men in Love is smart, down-to-earth, funny, bawdy, politically inspired, dark, multi-layered, and filled with the kind of intertextual play that Gray delights in. As with Gray’s previous novel Poor Things, several partial narratives are presented together. Here the conceit is that they were all discovered in the papers of the late John Tunnock, a retired Glasgow teacher who started a number of novels in settings as varied as Periclean Athens, Renaissance Florence, Victorian Somerset, and Britain under New Labour."

Continuing our series of posts about Gray's novel, here's an excerpt from the book's introduction, written by Lady Sara Sim-Jaeger...


We Sim-Jaegars are a widely scattered clan. Though born and educated in England I am now resident in Los Angeles with all the rights of a United States citizen. The Edinburgh Festival has twice drawn me to Scotland, yet I never dreamed I had a distant cousin there until a solicitor’s letter arrived “out of the blue,” as they say. It told me John Tunnock had died intestate, that I was his next of kin, and asked how I wished to dispose of his estate – some thousands of pounds in a savings account and a large terrace house in Glasgow’s Hillhead district. The current sale price of such houses was anything between half a million and a million. Furnishings, domestic appliances, ornaments, pictures and books had not yet been professionally valued, but a Glasgow agent of Christie’s (the wellknown auctioneering firm) had written expressing interest in a stained glass panel representing Faith, Hope and Charity in the stairwell window, since records of the William Morris workshop indicated that it was designed by Burne-Jones. If I wished to view my cousin’s former property without residing in it (which was perhaps likely, given the circumstances of his death) I would easily find accommodation in a neighbourhood Hilton hotel.

This letter had clipped to it a Herald newspaper cutting dated three weeks earlier. It said that John Tunnock, retired schoolteacher, aged sixty-seven, had been found dead at his home in Glasgow’s Hillhead district, and the police were appealing to the public for information about anyone seen entering or leaving his home before the morning of Saturday, 28th April. Attached to the clipping was a further note from the lawyer saying the police had taken all evidence the house could yield and no arrests would be made. He had ordered the removal of blood stains and the place was now thoroughly tidied and cleaned, all locks on doors were changed and a new up-to-date burglar alarm installed. He awaited my instructions.

Well! God knows I have all the money I need but a businesswoman can always use more. My investments are safe because I work closely with my brokers and lawyers – not that I suspect them of corrupt practices, but when professional men’s judgement is at fault (and no financial arrangement is ever flawless) they sometimes automatically ensure that the cost is borne by inattentive clients. This canny attitude brought me to Glasgow against the advice of American and English friends who said I would be in danger of criminal violence, and pointed to my cousin’s fate as a warning. My omniscient insurance advisor disagreed. Glasgow, he said, certainly had the greatest density of European poverty, ill health and crime west of the former Communist empire – in one district the average life expectancy was seventeen years less than that of those living in the Gaza Strip before the recent Israeli-Lebanese war – but the murder rate was still three quarters of that in most United States cities. Statistics show that in Glasgow’s Hillhead area a woman is marginally safer than in Beverly Hills, especially if she does not wear bright blues or greens while watching television football in crowded pubs. These colours, that sport, such pubs do not tempt me. To Glasgow I came...


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