Thursday, September 24, 2015

Book review - "John MacNab" by John Buchan (1925)

The 39 Steps remains Buchan's most famous novel but this is probably the most fun - upper class to be sure but less obnoxious than other of his writings, full of energy and with a great central idea: three friends are bored with life, so to liven things up they decide to poach some game in the Scottish highlands, letting the local lairds know what they're up to and daring them to stop them. They are helped by another upper class friend plus various ghillies and allies they collect along the way, including a journalist and spirited, if impoverished, aristocratic girl.

There are really four heroes - John Palliser-Yeates, Charles Lamancha and regular Buchan star Edward Leithen as the three who kick it off, plus Archie Roylance as the man who helps them. Roylance's cheery upper class twittery makes him the most distinctive character followed by determined, less macho Leithen; Lamancha is a brooding born to rule Tory while Palliser-Yeates struggles to make much of an impact. Fortunately the book has Buchan's best female character - spirited Janet Roden, who has a charming romance with Archie, and is allowed to best Palliser-Yeates by guessing where he's going to attack.

Leithen's successful poaching of salmon is cleverly handled - it involves him having to don a disguise as a tramp - and there's some clever writing: the abduction of an upper class lady's dog for the purposes of the plot, Lamancha's final duel to shoot the stag, Leithen getting out of trouble when he's discovered with an Eton badge while dressing as a tramp by claiming he is a former public school boy laid low by drink.

It's a good spirited book too: yes the heroes are all tories, the lower classes tug their forelocks and/or are comic - but the point is made several times that position has to be earned and defended, and is not given by right; the government is criticised for not looking after its World War One veterans.

No one is really nasty - the most villainous person is new money who won't help out a servant, but even he feels bad about it towards the end. It also has a wonderful feeling of camaraderie and fun amongst the leads, plus some expert descriptive writing of  the highlands. I only wish that more had been done with the subplot of the Viking Tomb excavation and there probably could have been another romance in there.

No comments: