The Mile by Craig A. Smith
Craig A. Smith’s debut novel follows three friends on a pub crawl down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Ian is a happy family man, Euan is in a crumbling marriage, and Stuart seems eager to return to his home in France. The trio run into Jock, an eccentric 95-year-old veteran who has surreptitiously slipped out of his care home for the day, and the group embarks on an evening filled with whisky and banter. The bulk of the drunken talk revolves around the Scottish independence referendum, with Nationalist Ian trying to convince his friends to vote Yes. Meanwhile, Rosie, a kind-hearted care home worker, is on the group’s trail in an effort to find Jock.
Smith skillfully invokes the atmosphere of Edinburgh’s most famous street – from the historic pubs to tourists gaping at street performers – while also capturing the city’s varied dialects. Problematic, however, is the novel’s structure, which is doomed to become repetitive as the group’s going-ons are unnecessarily retold when the narrative switches to Rosie. Character development lacks balance – while the guys are well sketched, Rosie remains a scant caricature, a notable disappointment considering how much time we spend with her. Though topical and timely, Smith’s novel suffers from an intended partiality towards independence that inevitably makes the work feel somewhat propagandistic. However, there are some fine comedic moments that anyone who has ever lived in or even visited Edinburgh can appreciate. [Dima Alzayat]