One City
edited by OneCity Trust

Polygon - Birlinn: Edinburgh, 2005

Review by
Jennifer Monroe Franson
109 pages May 2009

Edinburgh stories

The three stories collected in One City share a common focus on Edinburgh, Scotland's capital city. The book was commissioned by the OneCity Trust, which campaigns for social justice in Edinburgh, and all three of the short stories are by writers associated with the city. The introduction is provided by J.K. Rowling, who was living in Edinburgh when she began work on the Harry Potter series.

The Edinburgh of these short stories is not the tourists' Edinburgh, the city of Festival and Fringe and afternoon tea at the Caledonian Hotel. Nevertheless, One City is a book that will be appreciated by all who love Edinburgh — or good short fiction.

"The Unfortunate Fate of Kitty da Silva"
  by Alexander McCall Smith

The first story in this collection shows us the Scottish capital from the perspective of Dr. John, a newly arrived researcher from southern India. In beautifully clear style, Smith follows this sympathetic outsider though his introduction to a city in which everything — the air, the smells, social relationships — at first seems thin and attenuated. A burgeoning friendship with his downstairs neighbor brings both comfort and complications — and a new understanding of himself and his adopted city.

  by Ian Rankin

In this enigmatic story, Rankin abandons his detective, John Rebus, in favor of a very different protagonist. Tiger is a homeless man and self-made magician attempting to follow in the footsteps of illusionist John Domino and Domino's own inspiration, early-20th-Century magician The Great Lafayette. Appropriately, perhaps, given the setting in time-haunted Edinburgh, the lines between past and present, reality and illusion, become malleable, leaving the readers, as well as Tiger's audience — and even Tiger himself — questioning the old adage that "seeing is believing."

"Murrayfield (you're having a laugh)"
  by Irvine Welsh

The third and final story also features a tiger — in this case a real one on the loose in respectable, suburban Murrayfield. Welsh's story is not for the squeamish, nor for those put off by obscenities or thick Scots dialect. It offers a strange mixture of the humorous and the harrowing, as those who encounter the tiger try to decide — in what seems like an overly matter-of-fact, even off-hand fashion — what to do about it. A call to the Edinburgh Zoo yields no useful information, since the receptionist who answers the telephone is new on the job and is "no sure who tae ask" about missing tigers. A postman who finds a neighborhood dog slaughtered by the tiger decides not to tell its owner for fear of losing his job: "They were trying to sack you for anything these days. He wasn't trained as a bereavement counsellor or anything like that. Ay, they were just waiting to trip you up." This story will confirm what most readers have already suspected — that the preferred methods for dealing with a hungry, 450-pound Bengal tiger do not include head-butting it or smacking it with a broom.


© 2009 Jennifer Monroe Franson

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