The Mile by Edinburgh author Craig Smith is a comic novel which follows a trio of lifelong friends as they roll down the Royal Mile on a pub crawl, a week before the Scottish Independence Referendum.
Ian, Euan and Stuart have different views on the impending decision on the country’s future. Ian, a staunch nationalist, sees the evening out as an opportunity to convert his dissenting mate Euan and undecided Stuart to the cause. Their best laid plans go a little agley however when they bump into ninety-five year-old Jock, who proves to be a character just as eccentric and colourful as his red tartan trousers.
As the group descend down the historic street, their anecdotes and antics get more and more fuelled by the amount of alcohol consumed. This provides some fine comic moments, in locations which will be immediately recognisable to Edinburgh locals and visitors alike.
In the hands of a less subtle writer, The Mile could have been a heavy-handed political diatribe. However, debut novelist Smith’s skill with pacing and dialogue instead seamlessly weaves the serious points into the narrative and his characters’ mouths, making them much more convincing. Also, much of the realistic banter is about the friends’ personal lives as well as their political leanings, widening the book’s appeal.
The Royal Mile itself is used as a setting and as a metaphor. From the proud heritage of the Castle, through the dark streets of the Canongate and on to the potential new dawn of the Parliament, the novel is as much about Scotland’s journey as it is about that of the three friends. Similarly, Jock himself is a semi-mythical microcosm of Scottish achievement, demonstrating his flair for bravery, enlightenment and — in one hilarious segment where he relieves himself outside the Tron Kirk — invention.
Like the pubs the characters stagger in and out of, The Mile is best suited for adult readers, with colourful but realistic language used throughout. At its whisky-soaked heart though, it is an enjoyable and human tale, which entertains rather than preaches — and by doing so makes its points far more engagingly than it otherwise would.
The Mile is out now as an e-book from Edinburgh publisher Pilrig Press. A paperback edition is also planned.