Emily Mackie’s first novel takes us into the mind of Nevis Gow, which is not the most comfortable place to be. When we meet him, Nevis is fifteen and, for the past eleven years, has lived on the road with his father, Marshall, a teacher-turned-writer (Nevis’s mother – whom the boy doesn’t remember – left Marshall for another man). Now, their van has been involved in an accident, and it seems the pair’s travels are at an end. They’ve been staying on a farm in the Scottish Highlands with the Kerrs: Nigel, the farmer, who’s coping with the death of his wife, Caroline; Nigel’s son, Colin (nicknamed ‘Duckman’); Colin’s cousin, Ailsa; and her mother, Elspeth. Nevis has been struggling to adjust to this static existence, because he doesn’t like all these people muscling in on his relationship with Marshall; you see, over the years, Nevis has grown rather too close to his father – in fact, he’s in love with Marshall.
And This is True is a character study that gains its affect from the interplay of two themes. The first of these is the way in which Nevis’s psyche has been shaped his life so far. It’s not just that his feelings for his father lead Nevis to do things (like stealing kisses when Marshall is asleep) that seem normal to him but less so to us. It’s also that Nevis has grown to have certain expectations of how life is going to be, and he struggles to cope when those expectations aren’t met – and to notice everything that’s going on around him.
The second theme concerns memory and truth. The text of the novel is Nevis Gow’s attempt to sort out his memories of what happened on the farm, whilst being only too aware that a memory isn’t necessarily ‘what really happened’, and trying to follow his father’s advice on how to write a good story, even when he finds that life won’t quite fit that model. Nevis discovers that maybe not everything he remembers is accurate, which, I suppose, leaves him in a quandary – if his past is as uncertain as his present seems to be, what does that mean for Nevis’s future?
The best passages in And This is True are simply stunning, when Mackie lays bare the pressures that Nevis is under. But there’s hope in there, too – the hope of journeys continuing. It ends on just the right note; the end, that is, of a fine debut.