Sometimes it’s the way the story is told rather than the story itself that takes the breath away. Angus Peter Campbell’s new novel, Electricity, is such a book, examining the everyday and giving it significance through his beautiful writing. Annie is our narrator who, through a series of pencil-written and illustrated notebooks which she is to bequeath to her granddaughter Emily, reminisces about growing up on the Hebrides and the changes on the islands.
Those early years are achingly evocative, a time when simple pleasures such as making friends, learning to ride bikes, forming secret clubs, receiving unforgettable Christmas presents, and summers which seemed like they would never end, are not given the significance they will come to have with the hindsight age brings. It is only on reflection that their true value is revealed. The ‘Electricity’ of the title not only refers to the new technology and invention coming to the islands but to the sparks and spontaneity which accompany youth; a time when everything is keenly felt.
As Campbell is an acclaimed poet, precise language is woven throughout. There are exquisite little moments portrayed, such as the buttering of toast, the sights and sounds of a mother knitting, and the change of perspective when being carried on the shoulders of ‘Dad’. In fact, it is these domestic reminiscences that make the book, rather than the more dramatic changes going on. The arrival of the new sliced white loaf is as memorable to Annie as that of the airport. The world is changing, and so are the Hebrides, but this is not a book pining for ‘simpler times’. It’s more about how such changes impact individuals and communities.
Annie’s sketches are scattered throughout to accompany and enhance the text and have been recreated by artist Liondsaidh Chaimbeul, Campbell’s wife. This feels appropriate as Electricity is about family as much as it is community (their daughter Ciorstaidh also contributes). It’s a wonderful and warm read that will raise spirits and gladden the heart, and is a reminder that there is no such thing as an ordinary life – every single one is extraordinary. When it comes to writing, Campbell is a true craftsman and Electricity is storytelling at its finest.