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Luckenbooth (by Jenni Fagan)

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“There is cheering out on the street. There is dancing. People meet and fall in love. Scuffles break out. They drink far too much. All of life is happening.”

Title: Luckenbooth
Author: Jenni Fagan
Pages:
338
Published by: Windmill Books (Imprint of Penguin, 2021)

In Jenni Fagan’s Luckenbooth, we follow the often squalid, sometimes vivacious lives (and deaths) of its residents.

Decades pass, people come and go, but the curses of dead women remain, echoing through the cold halls and dank stairwells of 10 Luckenbooth Close.

And much like Fagan’s novella Hex, Luckenbooth is a macabre but powerful piece of writing.

A darker shade of Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a magical place, but like all capital cities, there’s a darker underbelly that most are not privy to. 

Fagan’s interpretation of Edinburgh in Luckenbooth is the antithesis to the tourist board presentation. The novel exposes the reader to political corruption, malicious landlords, extreme poverty, and ingrained misogyny. All the things that polite society is aware of but tends to avert its gaze from. 

Luckenbooth is therefore a seething critique of society’s failings. And whilst the novel lacks subtlety at times, with each chapter veering into a different injustice, this feels intentional.

Fagan drags the reader kicking and screaming from the comfort of fiction back into the stark reality of social issues in our own world, only to pull them back in with slick, beautiful prose.

Luckenbooth Close as architectural horror

10 Luckenbooth Close is a place poisoned by the people within and the world without – and throughout the novel, the building morphs and buckles in grotesque ways. 

It’s a dying building, with the spirits of its violent past clinging to the veil between life and death, haunting its residents.

Highly visual, Fagan’s depictions of 10 Luckenbooth Close elicit creation in the mind of the reader. This is especially powerful in latter parts of the novel where the once-packed building stands derelict and (almost) abandoned.

Byam Shaw, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

There is a power to abandoned places – in the absence of humanity, they take on new forms and natural life takes over, which Cal Flyn’s excellent Islands of Abandonment explores with real-world locations.

A form of architectural horror, Poe-esque in execution, it’s a memorable setting that will haunt the mind of its readers long after the final page is turned.

Final Thoughts

Is Luckenbooth worth reading? Great pieces of literary fiction unlock the reader’s imagination, transporting them to wild and wicked places they’ve never experienced before. And Luckenbooth is one of those books – if you give it time. 

It’s a bleak affair and not all readers will enjoy this relentlessly dark interpretation of Scotland’s capital. However, Jenni Fagan is a wonderful writer with a marvellous way with words – and it’s a compelling tale for those willing to darken the door of 10 Luckenbooth Close.

If you’re in any doubt, try reading Hex first – it’s a shorter book that introduces you to the writer’s style. But, if you’re a socially-conscious reader with a fascination towards the gothic, you’ll absolutely love this one.

4/5

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