Thursday, 9 November 2000

Compton Mackenzie: The Monarch of the Glen (1941)

Edition: Penguin, 1983
Review number: 678

Just about the only connection between this novel and the TV series "based" on it is that both are set in the Highlands of Scotland. (I only watched part of the series, because it seemed more like an attempt to repeat the success of Ballykissangel rather than anything worth watching.) The equivalent of the selfish character played by Richard Briers is the blustering but good hearted clan chieftain, Donald MacDonald of Ben Nevis, usually - and appropriately - called Ben Nevis.

There are two strands to the plot of the novel. Chester Royde is an American millionaire who has recently married, and who has come to Scotland to visit something of his bride's roots (she is descended from crofters evicted by an ancestor of Ben Nevis in the Highland Clearances). He is also accompanied by his young, unmarried sister, and it seems to the MacDonald family that nothing would be better in this era of rising costs for the landed gentry than for Myrtle Royde to marry one of Ben Nevis' three sons.

The second strand begins when Ben Nevis takes his guests shooting on the Twelfth, and discovers that the grouse on one of his best moors have been frightened off by a group of hikers. Furious because the trespassers have spoiled his sport, he carries them off, with the help of his brawny children, and imprisons them in the dungeons of his ancestral castle. When saner counsels prevail and the hikers are released, his action prompts the National Union of Hikers to declare war on the Ben Nevis estate, and this provides most of the comedy of this amusing novel. It is a gentle humour, though as the war escalates it loses some of its restraint.

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