Highs and the lows of Scottish life from 1976-99

The Broken Journey is the second volume in Kenneth Roy’s collection on life in Scotland after the tragic events of World War II.

His first volume The Invisible Spirit: A Life of Post-War Scotland 1945-75 was hugely successful, making this sequel a highly anticipated piece of work. The Broken Journey certainly lives up to expectations and without doubt matches the quality of The Invisible Spirit.

The author skillfully guides the reader through time in chronological order from 1976-1999, with each chapter focussing on a year which is described in captivating detail. We are shown the numerous social, political and cultural threads which laid down the roots of what makes 21st century Scotland what it is today.

This is not a book which recites verbatim facts and events throughout history, Roy walks us through historical advances in areas as diverse as the abolishment of corporal punishment for school children, to the international breakthrough of cloning Dolly the sheep.

Roy’s reporting of these events varies vastly, but is always appropriate. For example, his humorous account of one of Scotland’s rare sporting triumphs in the Scottish football team’s qualification for the World Cup in Argentina in 1978. Roy emphasises the irony of the Scots’ confidence, describing the ‘wild’ Tartan Army in their tens of thousands at Hampden Park chanting their national anthem and holding banners boldly stating: ‘Argentina. We came, we saw, we conquered.’

As we all now know, this confidence was misplaced and the team didn’t make it past the first round.

This account is in stark contrast to the emotive narration of the Orkney child sex abuse scandal in 1991. Here, Roy presents the children’s innocence through interviews which chronicle the horrific events that took place in heart-wrenching detail.

Kenneth Roy is an extremely important author historically and he has the ability to bring out strong emotions in the reader, whether it be through a lighthearted and witty description of a stereotypical teenager in his chapter ‘A day in the life of Scotland’ or the chilling retelling of the sadistic massacre of schoolchildren in Dunblane in 1996.

This rare ability is what makes his book a truly great read. The Broken Journey is a versatile tome, equally enjoyable when read chronologically, or by picking out years of particular interest. A great choice for in-depth rainy afternoon reading or for a quick blast through post-war history.

The Broken Journey: A Life of Scotland 1976-1999, by Kenneth Roy, published by Birlinn, £25.

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