Book review: Site Works
Robert Davidson's novel Site Works explores the struggle of not one, but a group of men working on the Ness and Struie Drainage Project in the far north of Scotland. It's not only a tale of men struggling to maintain their lives in the harsh adversity of a Scottish winter, but also a realistic contemplation of the varying ideals and hopes of each man working on the project.
There is no overarching authoritative narrator; instead, each of the men is allowed freedom of voice to demonstrate their position in the company. The constant shifts in narration emphasise the transient nature of the work the men do, and the relationships they form, before they move onto another contract. As the completion of the project forms the main focus for the plot, the real interest lies in the characters . Davidson draws on common themes of working-class literature; the tension between home and work, class divisions, even ideas of gender. The workers are all male; there are no central female characters and those that do appear are side-lined as wives and mothers.
In this novel work is everything. Family, relationships and socialising take a back seat to the demands of the drainage project and the relationships formed between the men on the site. Davidson rarely touches upon any suggestion of a home life.
Caught somewhere between The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and Children of the Dead End, there is a subtle bleakness to Site Works that is masked by the characters' acceptance of their profession as the sole focus of their lives. However, it would be a much more engaging read if it wasn't for the use of highly technical language has an alienating effect as it mostly remains unexplained. The exploration of character has potential, but no sooner does a character begin to reveal themselves then their position on the site dominates and the only connection made is between man and his work.
Site Works is an interesting read for those who enjoy this particular genre, and a bit of a slog for those who don't given the constant use of technical language. It's a clever book and potentially an interesting read, but lacks the spark that would mark it as more widely appealing.
BY Robert Davidson
Sandstone Press, 256pp, 7.99
Review by Jen Bowden