"A Capital Union", by Victoria Hendry, tells the story of seventeen year old Ayrshire lass Agnes, newly married to a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, as she seeks to settle in to a very different life in Edinburgh. We meet Agnes in 1942. The Second World War hangs over everyone's lives and the outcome is at this point far from certain. To make matters more complicated still, Agnes' husband Jeff is an activist for the Scottish National Party, an opponent of conscription in Scotland, and a conscientious objector. Agnes finds dealing with her aloof Edinburgh neighbours hard enough without their having what they see as a real reason to look down on her.
Jeff's involvement in the SNP brings Agnes into contact with Douglas Grant, a key, fictionalised, figure in the SNP, and for a time he seems to offer a slightly more human face to the movement than her own increasingly obsessed and obsessive husband. From its starting point the story develops very engagingly and there are some unsignalled twists and unpredictable turns as we follow Agnes' very mixed fortunes over the next five years.
This is Victoria Hendry's debut novel, and it is a highly successful one that we would recommend without reservation. Two things ensure it stands out from the crowd. The first is the use of language. The story is told from Agnes' perspective, and written in a way that strikes a perfect balance between, on the one hand, being believable as the work of a 17 year old whose first language is Scots, and on the other being accessible to everyone who is likely to want to read it. Agnes' language is not the rather impenetrable (to a wider English speaking audience) language of Robert Burns, rather it feels like the author has carefully judged how far it is possible to go in order to give a sense of the language without getting in the way of the readers' enjoyment of the book. And a glossary of Scots words at the back ensures that the words and expression used can readily be understood: we'll let you discover for yourself why there is also a glossary of German words and phrases.
The second element of particular resonance at the moment is the background you pick up about the Scottish Nationalist movement in the 1940s. With Scotland voting in September 2014 on whether to become an independent country, what you learn of this stage of the development of the movement and its debate on whether to support the war effort is fascinating. The extensive list of references shows how carefully the author researched this aspect, in particular, of the book's setting.