Nicola Sturgeon on 'Sunset Song'
'Sunset Song' is, without a shadow of doubt, my favourite book of all time. That I would have said that without hesitation when I read it for the first time back in my teenage years is not surprising. But that I say it still, more than 30 years and hundreds of great books later, demands more examination. My conclusion is that the love I feel for Sunset Song is not just an appreciation of its considerable literary quality; it is as much, maybe more so, a reflection of the profound impact it had on me at a formative time of my life. In no small way, I owe my love of literature to 'Sunset Song'.
I have been an avid reader of fiction for as long as I can remember, probably longer. My childhood memories are full of the stories of Beatrix Potter, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, C S Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Laura Ingalls Wilder and many more. But it was 'Sunset Song' that awakened something deeper in me. It stirred an appreciation of more than just story, powerful though the one told by Lewis Grassic Gibbon undoubtedly is. 'Sunset Song' is one of the first books that had me utterly captivated by the lyricism of language and the power of place. I discovered the novel's ability to educate as well as entertain. I experienced the reflective and healing resonance of character – the ability of a made-up person on a page to help us better understand our own lives; to make us feel less alone. While I could fantasise about being George from the Famous Five in a life wildly different to my own, Chris Guthrie spoke to, and helped me make sense of, the girl I was.
I – and I suspect many Scots – found in her something of myself and what it meant to be Scottish; and that she helped me make sense of the conflicts and choices my teenage self was grappling with. I understood through her the love / hate – but ultimately love – relationship with the land that many of us feel. Through Chris, I could give expression to the feelings that stirred in me as I looked across the field and out to the sea from my grandparents' croft on the west coast of Scotland – dreaming of going to university in the 'big city', but knowing that part of my soul would always belong there. Chris also helped me understand the inferiority complex that working-class Scots can sometimes feel, worried that our way of speaking isn't the 'proper English' we hear on the television, but also knowing that it is the best and purest way of expressing who we are.
This online resource continues this conversation for contemporary audiences. It provides context and background for readers who know the text well, as well as those who do not. Mapped to the Curriculum for Excellence, it introduces teachers and pupils to the Library's extensive collections on Lewis Grassic Gibbon, as well as Scotland's experience of the First World War. Most importantly, the resource features a rich variety of responses from women – voices that have been historically underrepresented in literature, public discourse, and indeed the national collections. This is a small step in redressing this imbalance, and I also like to think it will connect new readers to Chris's inner voice – one that has stayed with me forever.
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland