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Posts for April 21, 2022

Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan (Books 2022, 7)

This came to me by way of The Guardian‘s summer reading recommendations last year. I ended up reading it in the tail end of winter, or spring, but that doesn’t matter. In his review, M John Harrison describes it as ‘brilliantly strange’, and that’s about right.

It’s a tale told across times, and tied to place. That place is number 10 Luckenbooth Close, in Edinburgh. Just off The Royal Mile, in fact, which is a place I lived as a student. I was in an alley called James Court, though, not the fictional Luckenbooth Close.

The close may be fictional, but the idea is not: luckenbooths were a kind of market stall in the High Street (part of The Royal Mile). Presumably that’s where Fagan got the street name from.

Though I discover today that a luckenbooth is also a piece of jewellery: a kind of heart-shaped brooch , named after the market stalls in turn.

The book, though, is about none of those things. Instead it’s about a series of people who live in the titular tenement block across the centuries. We start with the Devil’s daughter, who — well, I won’t go into spoilery details. William Burroughs is one of the characters, strangely. Apparently he did visit Edinburgh.

It is an astonishing work, involving the saving of ghosts, murders, the Millennium celebrations, homelessness, and much more. Highly recommended.