"The pale man slept in a ragged, damp sail, which he shook free of earwigs and sand jumpers, pulling the stiff fabrics around him, a neckerchief across his face against midges, chuckling and murmuring beneath the garment in other languages, till sleep took him..."
"Nothing Left to Fear from Hell" by Alan Warner is a short novel retelling the story of the flight of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden. Most of the book's readers will probably know something about the story, even if it's only the prince's flight, with Flora MacDonald and disguised as an Irish maid, from Benbecula in the Western Isles "over the sea to Skye".
Few of the book's readers, on the other hand, will ever have imagined the grim and gritty reality of the prince's circumstances during his journey in quite the way that Alan Warner has imagined them. In a style unlike anything we've read before, the reader is brought face-to-face with the sheer unpleasantness of fleeing for your life with everyone on the lookout for you. There are passages in the book when you get the sense you are looking at a painting rather than reading a book: there's something about the author's style and use of language that draws you into the moment in a very visual way. It's so unexpected it takes a little getting used to: but it does add an entirely novel and welcome dimension to the story being told.
You get a good sense of the book from the publisher's description: "A battle lost. A daring escape. A long walk into obscurity. The ultimate failure…. In the aftermath of the disastrous Battle of Culloden, a lonely figure takes flight with a small band of companions through the mountainous landscapes of the north-west Highlands of Scotland. His name is Charles Edward Stuart: better known today as Bonnie Prince Charlie. He had come to the country to take the throne. Now he is leaving in exile and abject defeat. In prose that is by turns poetic, comic, macabre, haunting and humane, multiaward-winning author Alan Warner traces the last journey through Scotland of a man who history will come to define for his failure."