Nicola Sturgeon talks of Scottish novel's 'profound impact' on her life

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has revealed how her life was transformed as a teenager when she read the classic Scottish novel Sunset Song.

She has told how Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s book about the hardships of a young woman growing up in a farming family in the North-East of Scotland stirred passions about the “power of place”, what it means to be Scottish and an “inferiority complex” some Scots have about coming from a working-class background.

Writing in a new edition of the novel, Ms Sturgeon recalls how although she had been an avid reader as a child, Sunset Song “awakened something deeper in me” and “helped me make sense of the girl I was”.

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She writes of how the journey of Chris Guthrie in the book helped her understand the inferiority complex that working-class Scots sometimes feel about their own accents.

Nicola Sturgeon talks of how Lewis Grassic Gibbons iconic novel transformed her life as a teenager. picture: supplied/GettyImages
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And she said the book – which explores the impact of the outbreak of the First World War on Guthrie and her family – was a reminder that “the joys and heartbreaks of our own lives are but the blink of an eye in the grand sweep of history”.

She described Sunset Song as "a beautiful, though often heartbreaking, story" which was also "unsparing" in its harsh realism, particularly over the "oppressive reality of life for women."

First published in 1932, Sunset Song was the first part of the Aberdeenshire-born author’s trilogy A Scots Quair. It was adapted into a BBC TV series in 1971 and a feature film in 2015.

Publishers Canongate, whose new edition is released on Thursday, say Ms Sturgeon’s introduction highlights “the importance of Sunset Song to Scottish identity and discusses the formative impact it has had upon her own life”.

Ms Sturgeon, who said Sunset Song was “without a shadow of doubt” her favourite book more than 30 years after she first read it, writes: “The love I feel for Sunset Song is not just an appreciation of its considerable literary quality; it is as much, maybe more so, a reflection of the profound impact it had on me at a formative time of my life. In no small way, I owe my love of literature to this novel.

“I’ve been an avid reader of fiction for as long as I can remember, probably longer. My childhood memories are full of the stories of Beatrix Potter, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, CS Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Laura Ingalls Wilder and many others. For me, nothing – not TV or playing games with friends – could beat the joy and exhilaration of being transported by a story to a place of the imagination.

"But it was Sunset Song that awakened something deeper in me. It stirred an appreciation of more than just story, powerful though the one told undoubtedly is.

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“Sunset Song is one of the first books that had me utterly captivated by the lyricism of language and the power of place. I discovered the novel’s ability to educate as well as entertain.

“I experienced the reflective and healing resonance of character – the ability of a made-up person on a page to help us better understand our own lives; to make us feel less alone. Chris Guthrie spoke to, and helped me make sense of, the girl I was.

"I do know that I, and I suspect many Scots, found in her something of myself and what it meant to be Scottish; and that she helped me make sense of the conflicts and choices my teenage self was grappling with. I understood through her the love/hate (but ultimately love) relationship with the land that many of us feel.

"Through Chris, I could give expression to the feelings that stirred in me as I looked across the field and out to the sea from my grand-parents’ croft on the west coast of Scotland – dreaming of going to university in the “big city”, but knowing that part of my soul would always belong there.

"Chris also helped me understand the inferiority complex that working-class Scots can sometimes feel, worried that our way of speaking isn’t “proper English”, but also knowing that it is the best and purest way of expressing who we are."

Ms Sturgeon said she still felt Sunset Song was profound, heartbreaking, but "ultimately uplifting and life affirming."

She added: "It tells a story of a Scotland that, in some senses, is no more, yet, in others, still lives in the hearts of each and every one of us.

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"It is said that Grassic Gibbon (just 33 years of age when he died, even younger than that other Scottish genius Robert Burns at the time of his death) wrote this masterpiece in six weeks.

"In doing so, he gifted us one of the finest literary accomplishments Scotland has ever known."