Book reviews: The Story of Maryhill Youth Club | The Island Nurse | Pagan Symbols of the Picts

The latest additions to the literary world, as reviewed by Michael Kerrigan

The Story of Maryhill Youth Club

by Jay Muirhead

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

(For the Right Reasons, £8.99)

Rating: ****

It’s something of a shock to see the suspicion that greeted the author’s grandfather when, in 1938, he founded one of Scotland’s first youth clubs. True, it was revolutionary in mixing girls and boys, but it’s sobering to reflect just how old-fashioned it seems now; how cynical we’d expect our own kids to be about all these sing-songs, boxing tournaments and ten-mile hikes. Yet adolescence remains as disturbing and disorientating as it was when, in 1961, The Scotsman suggested that the nation’s youth had “an inferiority complex that shows itself in gangs and drink”. The answer, the writer believed, was simple – “more clubs like Maryhill”. Reading this inspiring book, that doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

The Island Nurse

by Mary J McLeod

(Mainstream, £7.99)

Rating: ****

As an outsider, Mary J McLeod saw the island she calls Papavray through fresh eyes; as a district nurse, she saw it up-close, in all its quirks – and vulnerabilities. Arriving at the start of the 1970s, Mary J made a home in the Hebrides with her family. On an island so remote, life could be ridiculously quiet, yet it could also be improbably exciting as – so far from outside help – minor ills or accidents became great dramas. This lively and heartening memoir evokes both the hardships and the humour of island life.

Pagan Symbols of the Picts

by Stuart McHardy

(Luath, £14.99)

Rating: ****

In A New History of the Picts (2010), Stuart McHardy already went some way towards rectifying the view of the Picts inherited from the Romans, as painted barbarians. Here he tries to sketch out a pagan society through Pictish stone art and the oral tradition of succeeding centuries. This is maddeningly elusive stuff at times: McHardy is always (and inevitably) pushing against the boundary between scholarship and speculation. His suggestion that tribal society is “remarkably tenacious”, clearly true up to a point, seems more questionable when it’s allowing him to use 18th-century sources to illuminate pre-Roman ways.