Remember the books you needed to read in high school? Some were dull, some were dense but there were a few that you actually liked. I had to read those too, but I also had to read a certain book. A book that almost killed my passion for reading. One that frankly disturbed me and I passionately hate to this day.
Before I explain why I hated this book, I will admit that it is a good novel. It isn’t bad by the conventional standards, I have read way worse books since that are objectively bad or lack any real substance. I have thought about rereading it as an adult to see if I appreciate it now, but somehow I doubt that. Frankly, just hearing the name or seeing the cover sends waves of disgust down my back.
Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon.
This book is famous in Scotland. So much so that new editions of the book are available with a new introduction, written by Nicola Sturgeon, the current First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish Government. In fact, it was voted Scotland’s Favourite Book.
The novel follows Chris Guthrie and her family moving to a new village and settling down. It is a poignant book about the “death” of the old way of Scottish life due to World War One. Hardly a cheery book by any stretch of the imagination. However, it doesn’t sound that traumatic for a 16-year-old yet. Well, I’ll tell you why I hated this book so much, but it will spoil the plot. I doubt it, but if you have any intentions to read this novel, stop reading here.
I had a few pet peeves with Sunset Song, but the true reason for my blinding abhorrence was the father.
Oh my god, this piece of shit! I can’t believe we are meant to feel bad about this man’s death. I can feel my blood boiling right now just thinking of him. From the word go, I despised him. The reason Chris and her family are moving is because of the new babies on the way. Babies her mother didn’t want but her father forced her to have. So she ends up killing herself and the twin babies. That is just the start of it! It only gets worse from here, folks.
When Chris is almost violated, her dad finds her distraught and merely asks if she is still a virgin, never comforts her or anything. Worst still, later on in the novel he tries to force himself on her, his own daughter! He justifies it by claiming the bible says it’s fine. Thankfully he is too weak after a stroke to try anything. If I recall correctly, it turns out the father had experienced hardship or something for his family, but I had no goodwill towards him. Frankly, I was confused why my teacher got all misty-eyed at his death.
As I mentioned, I was about 16 when I read this, and I was used to reading hard going material by this stage. Yet Sunset Song hit differently. Maybe it was because I had experienced folk trying to use religion to justify horrid actions or the idea of being forced to give birth against my will was too much to handle but I started to dread English class, knowing I had to read more of this book.
In hindsight, I think my autism and my black and white worldview at the time prevented me from understanding the real message. Regardless, being forced to read a novel I loathed made me view reading as a chore, not a hobby. I stopped reading as often outside of class to the point that I barely read anything for about three years. It’s only been a few years since I got back into the habit of reading daily. I point the finger squarely at Sunset Song.
To this day, I feel my skin crawl when I hear that title. I don’t think I will ever stop disliking the novel. It will always be known to me as the novel that nearly killed my love of reading.