Book #09

Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan

The devil's daughter rows to Edinburgh in a coffin, to work as maid for the Minister of Culture, a man who lives a dual life. But the real reason she's there is to bear him and his barren wife a child, the consequences of which curse the tenement building that is their home for a hundred years. As we travel through the nine floors of the building and the next eight decades, the resident's lives entwine over the ages and in unpredictable ways.

The devil’s daughter arrives in Edinburgh in a coffin in the early 1900s, and finds her way to No. 10 Luckenbooth Close. A skyscraper-like tenement building hosting the lives of many families, it’s a monolithic enclosure of humanity, keeper of secrets, and houser of sin.

Fagan shows us life in this building from the devil’s daughter’s arrival, all the way up until the nineties - almost a century of people passing through this structure, living, dying, and experiencing Edinburgh in their relevant decades.

There’s a strange atmosphere of dread permeating throughout the pages, an irrevocable dark tension which seems to still be living with me since I finished the book yesterday. All of these lives have a doomed quality attached to them, and the building itself is the harbinger of destruction, cursing them all in its fury.

The novel is split into sections, dealing with inhabitants in chronological order. Each decade tells a tale of a different person, and these read like vignettes or short stories. It became difficult to leave certain characters behind when moving through time, as I fell in love with some and loved to dislike others. Most fates were left unwritten, which made me feel as though I were living in the tenement with only partial knowledge of the stories of my neighbours. It’s a frustrating aspect, but one which is masterfully true to life.

Our tenants are those who wouldn’t normally be given a voice. The oppressed, the misunderstood, the ill, the impoverished, the disabled. They are all here, and their stories are beautiful in their telling. We see people embracing who they are whilst attempting to struggle through each day. We see brutality, love, confusion, awe. The library of characters within this building is striking; it’s impossible not to feel passion and intrigue for their experiences and situations, to feel close to them, and, ultimately, to miss them as Fagan hurtles you through time, away.

A story for the marginalised, for those who have seen Edinburgh’s underbelly, for those who know what it is to be cursed. Fagan gives us a visceral and unforgettable journey through nine decades, and up the nine floors of Luckenbooth.