Writer: Jenni Fagan
Publishing House: William Heinemann
Date of Publication: January 14th 2021
Rating: 5 stars
‘’I kiss my mother’s cross. Set into the floor so there’s one holy thing between me and oblivion. The sea won’t take me. I am the devil’s daughter. Nobody wants responsibility for my immortal soul. My address cannot be – the Devil’s Daughter, North Sea. I’ll never knock at heaven’s door. Hell knows I could do far worse than take over.’’
The Devil’s daughter arrives in Leith, heading to No. 10 Luckenbooth to fulfill a strange arrangement. When tragedy strikes brought about by the evil of one man, a curse falls on the building and its tenants. And thus, a dark journey begins. An odyssey taking place within Edinburgh and throughout the years, haunting women and men while the city stands witness to the battles of the human soul.
And this is how a masterpiece is born…
‘’Edinburgh seduces with her ancient buildings. She pours alcohol or food down the throats of anyone passing, dangles her trinkets, leaves pockets bare. She’s a pickpocket. The best kind of thief, can you think of – most fondly.
There is a cage around my heart – made of bone, bone, bone.’’
What can I possibly say? This novel is a treasure, a modern classic, a triumph all composed and generously gifted to us readers by Jenni Fagan, a unique writer that needs no introductions. She welcomes us with the very heart of Edinburgh and shows us its soul, its darkness, its beauty and ferocity. Α city where the Devil has been let loose in the form of unspeakable evil, betrayal, and slaughter. Levi’s chapters form a lullaby for Edinburgh, Dot’s are hymns to its haunting nature. Through moments of serenity (there is a beautiful church scene) and sequences of terrifying violence, Edinburgh and its ghosts come alive and represent the two sides of the human soul and heart. You will feel that you actually ARE in the Scottish capital through Fagan’s exquisite writing.
‘’Aye! If love can heal us then first it has to pull all out demons right up to the surface, no? How can we slay what can’t first see?’’
A luckenbooth brooch symbolizes love and eternal union. Fagan writes about love in all its beautiful and terrible forms. She writes about hatred, the plague that goes on and on for centuries and centuries, the source of all evil. The Holocaust and all the terrors of the Second World War form the greatest, darkest representation of the devil’s work on our world. There are references to the Night Witches of the Soviet Union that made the Nazis curse the (terrible) days they were born and the witches’ covens whose spells aimed to stop Hitler’s massacres. There is the nightmare of AIDS. There are echoes of the UK miners’ strikes and Thatcher’s politics, and the incidents in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the year that changed the world. Beyond the chaos, the despair, the corruption, womanhood flourishes. There is a beautiful paragraph in Jessie’s second chapter that pays homage to women throughout the ages, from the Virgin Mary to Aphra Behn, from Artemisia Gentileschi to Sophie Blanchard. Women who loved and fought against the world and their times, who lost their children and their loved ones, who were wounded but never defeated.
From the flames of Hogmanay and Christmas, through beautiful, mystical echoes of the Jewish tradition and culture, from 1910 to 1999, through love and pain, through every evil in the world (Antisemitism, racism, criminality, violence), No 10. Luckenbooth is watching…
And now, I will copy two of my most favourite paragraphs and I am not even sorry…
‘’A little curved turnip is stood on a miniature boulder. He howls at a fingernail moon. There is moss on the turnip floor and long twigs make it look like a forest at night. Drums begin to pound down low, out on the street. Hundreds of them! Pagan drummers marching down the High Street. It is Samhain. The white witch will be given her ritual sacrifice on Calton Hill. The Green Man will protect her on the journey.’’
‘’All over the world clocks tick, both in and out of time with each other. Ivor’s favourite is an astronomy clock. It is in Bohemia. It’s 10 p.m. here. It will strike midnight over there soon. Death will appear. It will beckon to a Turkish entertainer. The figures of Vanity and Greed will glide out. Spin on the dance floor. Twelve Apostles will flash from their windows. The Earth is centre. Sky is blue or black. There is Ortis ( sunrise), Occasvc (sunset), and Crevscvlvm (twilight). There is the Tropic of Cancer. It has all the signs of the zodiac. Three arms rotate the way through existence. One holds a moon, one holds a star. There is a sun. A golden hand.’’
This is the most lyrical description of the Prague Astronomical Clock…
How do you move on, as a reader, after such an experience…
‘’All the roads running down into the New Town in neat lines, exposing views from city to sea – looking all the way across the water. In summer sometimes golden fields of hay over in Fife catch the light. Luckenbooth has seen all the hearts break. All the people who started new jobs. Everyone who got back up again and walked these roads. Or there is a soft haze of green hills to seduce the eye on an icy morning. At night, on the other side of the Firth of Forth, a glowing dash of red lights up as Mossmorran bolts fire up into the sky from the ethylene plant, way over in the Kingdom of Fife – a place often ignored (or derided) by the many snobs of Edinburgh. It’s so pretty there. Seals swim out from Inchcolm Island. Fat white or grey seal cubs pop up every year, all black eyes and whiskers. In winter, the hills across the water are snow-peaked and majestic.’’