Just occasionally, a book comes along that makes you say "Wow!"
"A Sketchbook of Edinburgh" by Iain Fraser & Anne Fraser Sim is one of them. We are, perhaps (actually, there's no "perhaps" about it) rather too old to be so awe-struck by a book that we simply sit and leaf through it, revelling in the quality of the production and the glory of the pictures, but that's exactly what we did on first acquaintance with this one. But let's look beyond that and start with the blurb on the inside front flap of the dust jacket: "In this evocative book Iain Fraser and Anne Fraser Sim take the reader, both visitor and resident, on a personal journey through the centre of one of the world's most unforgettable cities. Working with four talented local artists they reflect the character and cultural history of Edinburgh through 150 beautiful original illustrations and accompanying text. Their narrative describes the split personality of Scotland's capital city, from the subdued sophistication of a 'dreich' February day to the flouncy and frivolous fun of the summer festival season." That's a pretty good description of what lies between the covers.
If this book just had words, it would still be a good book about Edinburgh, but it probably wouldn't be an extraordinary one. What makes this book extraordinary is the way those words have been interwoven with stunning original illustrations of the city. The four artists whose work has been used to illustrate the book are Keli Clark, Irina Cuca, Cat Outram and Catherine Stevenson. As you look more closely at the illustrations, it is possible to see different styles emerging. This is great, but it's not so striking it detracts from the consistency of feel and the unity of the book.
After a foreword by Alexander McCall Smith the book begins with an introduction, and then embarks on a geographical tour of the city via, perhaps inevitably, the Old Town and the New Town, each divided into a number of sub-areas, before working around the north side of the city, and then the south. The result is certainly not a book you will want to take with you and refer en route round the city: it is far too large for that. But it is a book that will inspire and delight, that will have you marking places on your street map of Edinburgh so you can go and seek them out for yourself. We've noted before that when publisher Birlinn Ltd really pulls out the stops the result can be absolutely superb production values, and that is certainly the result here. The book is printed on what could be taken for art paper and the sheer quality of the printing of the illustrations is outstanding. Our only regret is that it's not possible to frame the book and its contents and display them on a wall, but that's the nature of the medium. This ia a book that we will enjoy browsing for a long time to come.