Tommy and his little sister Elspeth live in a poor apartment in London. When their mother dies of consumption, the children go to live in her old hometown in Scotland. Tommy is sent to a little school, where the teachers have high hopes of his academic skills, but he disappoints everyone by being more interested in playing and pretending rather than his studies.
Tommy and Elspeth befriend a prostitute’s child, Grizel, who is sensitive, complicated, and prickly. She is by far the best character in the entire book. She puts on a brave face and acts crabby to ward off people’s mean comments about her mother, but at heart she is sweet and good.
Tommy is unlikeable, self-centered, and arrogant. Then he will do one generous or kind thing that melts your heart. But in the next chapter, he is an arrogant jerk again. I liked that he is imaginative and has an artistic soul. I hated the way he has to be the center of attention at all times. He lives for nothing but to be admired and petted, and silly little Elspeth happily obliges by worshipping him no matter what he does.
Elspeth has no personality at all. She just tags along with Tommy, and sits around (She literally sits around. She takes no action in any scene.) giving her brother adoring looks. She thinks he is the hero of every story ever written. She idolizes him and it’s pathetic.
The plot is slow. The writing style is chaotic. There are sentences that don’t make any sense, until they are finally explained three pages later. Makes for a confusing story in places.
There are a lot of Scotch words, and not just commonly known ones like “kirk” or “ken”. I was still able to guess what was meant in most of the dialogue, but it was difficult reading through so many unknown words, or having to stop and look them up.
And yet, there are some truly hilarious scenes that actually made me laugh out loud in public while I was reading. I was seriously guffawing loudly in a public place, garnering some curious looks, because this book made me laugh.
And yet, there are some truly horrendously boring scenes that almost made me DNF the book. And also some disgusting details about blood or things that were just completely unnecessary.
And yet, there were some truly remarkable insights into human nature that made me stop and think and ponder some deep philosophical ideas.
Some of it is brilliant. Some of it is boring. Some of it is incomprehensible.