Fir for Luck is Barbara Henderson’s first foray into novel writing and she has created a story not only to entertain, but to educate young people on the important historical events of the tragedy which was the Highland Clearances.
The story starts in Strathnaver in 1814 with a panic-stricken Anna watching, defenceless, as her village is burnt down around her. Over the page and the book propels us into 1841 when Anna has become “Granna” and the whole sorry affair looks like repeating itself once more. This split narrative isn’t immediately understandable and, although it becomes more clear as the story goes on, doesn’t ever delve deep enough to provide any real relevance to the the main storyline.
Granna’s granddaughter, Janet, however, is a well-developed, likeable and spirited character who will not be beaten by the landowner, Anderson, as he throws everything he can at the Ceannabeinne community in order to remove them to be replaced with the more lucrative business of sheep farming. Children, young girls particularly, will enjoy reading about this red-haired heroine in her quest to save her village.
The reader is thrust straight into the action and cannot help but sympathise with the communities being forced from their homes. Henderson keeps the details as factually accurate as possible, touches such as the precentor in the church to sing the psalms, the box beds and the griddle for cooking beremeal scones giving a real flavour of life on the land at that time.
Gàidhlig phrases are thrown in too, although there is a not-in-keeping reprove for the children at one point about the ugliness of the English language which is at odds with the tongue the book is written in.
This is a pleasant read and children living in, visiting or interested in the Highland Clearances will no doubt gobble it up as the action just keeps on coming and new tensions built up; exactly what young people look for in a novel.