I mentioned George Mackay Brown in a recent post about Scottish Catholic literature and so thought I ought now to focus on one or two of his books. Pictures in the Cave is a series of connected short stories for children, which take us from the Orkneys of myth through much of Orcadian history almost to the present day. There's everything from selkie legends to the Spanish Armada, from King Robert the Bruce to German airmen in World War II.
The stories are not explicitly Catholic tales but there are a few intriguing moments. The first comes when Robert the Bruce seeks refuge in a monastery:
"You understand," said the abbot, "we don't ask here whether a man is a king or a beggar. It's sufficient that he is an immortal soul. The Kingdom of Heaven is of more concern to us than Scotland or England or Norway. This much I grant - a man can work and pray better if he is a free man in a free country."
The second is the wonderful 'The Feast of the Strangers', an Orkney Fable as he called it, which retells the Christmas story with a powerfully Orcadian setting.
And the third is the end of the book when all the characters seem to meet again in the afterlife. Like Muriel Spark, another great Scottish Catholic writer, George Mackay Brown was fascinated by time - God's time, our time, eternity, and the pull of free will, predestination and determinism. His Booker-shortlisted Beside the Ocean of Time famously slips in and out of different historical eras, for example. Some of his novels are coming back into print. Let's hope his children's books follow.