The Monarch of the Glen – Compton Mackenzie

I listened to most of The Monarch of the Glen on audio, narrated by the wonderful David Rintoul. But, I haven’t been at work this week so I haven’t been in the car listening to my audio book of the moment. I was having Monarch of the Glen withdrawal symptoms so, as I also had a copy of the book, I read the last 60pp or so on a cold afternoon earlier this week. I was seduced by the lovely Vintage reprint of Monarch of the Glen a few months ago when I read Desperate Reader’s enthusiastic review.

The Monarch of the title is Donald MacDonald of Ben Nevis (known as Ben Nevis). He’s the Laird of Glenbogle Castle & a vast estate in the Highlands. He’s married to Trixie, has two hefty daughters, Catriona & Mary & three sons, Hector, Murdoch & Iain. Ben Nevis is playing host to a distant relation from Canada, Carrie Macdonald & her immensely wealthy American husband, Chester Royde Jr. Chester’s sister, Myrtle, is also in the party & Ben Nevis decides that Myrtle would be the perfect wife for one of his sons, preferably the eldest, Hector. Carrie’s ancestors were driven from their croft during the Clearances, but she doesn’t bear a grudge & is learning Gaelic from a book called Gaelic Without Tears as she wanders soulfully over the estate looking for the ruins of her ancestor’s croft. Chester is just as enthusiastic about everything Scottish as Carrie & decides to buy a hunting lodge for future holidays. Ben Nevis & his impoverished neighbour, Hugh Cameron of Kilwhillie, decide that Knockmacolly, Kilwhillie’s dilapidated lodge would be perfect. Chester also decides to surprise Carrie by wearing a kilt of his own design to the Glenbogle Gathering, the local Highland Games hosted by Ben Nevis every year.

However, everything could be upset by the war between Ben Nevis & the hikers, members of the National Union of Hikers, who ignore the many signs around Glenbogle forbidding camping & frighten the birds on the Glorious Twelfth of August with the loud music from their radios. As well as the hikers, Ben Nevis has to defend his property from the Scottish Nationalists roaming the Highlands. Carrie meets up with two of these renegades on her solitary walks & is especially taken with Alan Macmillan, a handsome young poet. The scene is set for scenes of culture clash between brash Chester & his hosts – Chester’s first experience of stalking is very funny. The great stag, the Muckle Hart of Ben Glass, is elusive & Chester finds himself crawling on his belly for miles across bog & heath. Ben Nevis & his retainers capture & imprison the hikers who have ruined their sport but this leads to a great meeting of the NUH at the Astrovegetarian Hall in London, where revenge is planned by the free-spirited hikers against the oppressive landed gentry, represented by Ben Nevis. Ben Nevis’s plans for Myrtle to marry one of his sons may also be thwarted when she meets the handsome poet.

This is such a funny, witty book. Mackenzie pokes gentle fun at everyone from brash American millionaires to soulful poets to egalitarian hikers. I think I enjoyed it even more because David Rintoul’s narration was fantastic. He handles the varied accents beautifully. Ben Nevis’s barking, Trixie’s booming & Duncan the ghillie’s gentle Highland accent were perfect. I especially loved his rendition of the Hikers’ Song as sung by the Secretary of the NUH, Mr Prew. Vintage have also reprinted Whisky Galore, Compton Mackenzie’s most famous book. But, my library has the audio book read by Ken Stott. I don’t think I can resist that!

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