"Ardnish: A Novel" by Angus MacDonald is a beautifully poignant book that paints an amazing pen picture of the life of one man between 1900 and 1944.
Donald John Gillies was born and raised in Ardnish in the Highlands of Scotland and after time in the army settled there with his wife, Morag, where they had a family and started the circle of life all over again.
But by 1900, Donald John, whose family is nearly grown, feels the urge to get away, to see the world and to escape his long-suffering wife. The opportunity to join the Lovat Scouts, to travel to South Africa and fight in the Boer War appeals to him far more than the life he can otherwise see awaiting him as he grows old with Morag in Arnish.
Despite some concerns for the family he is leaving behind, and despite the pleadings of his wife, Donald John makes good on his determination to return to army life and take what he sees to be his final opportunity to live beyond the confines of his village.
The narrative is told from Donald John’s deathbed and switches between his life in Ardnish and life on the front line in South Africa. His story is poignant and paints a convincing picture of two very contrasting environments, along with the people who inhabit them. The descriptions of his life spent in Ardnish and the surrounding area are fascinating and extremely detailed. We learn of his family relationships and the hard life they live in this idyllic place, trying to eke out a living in bad weather and with little money.
In South Africa, the pen picture of the barren landscapes he must pass through is eclipsed by the brutality and injustice of war.
Once Donald John returns from war, his life becomes even harder and his dependence on his stalwart wife, Morag, sees him reassess their relationship and appreciate the resolve she has shown through the difficulties they have faced together.
Whilst you do build up an expectation of how the book might end, there is plenty to keep you turning the page to the very end and to appreciate the craft of the author. "Ardnish: A Novel" is a thoroughly enjoyable read and one we would highly recommend.