5 Books to Read Before Visiting Edinburgh

5 books edinburgh

As Unesco’s city of literature, Edinburgh has both a rich literary history and a thriving contemporary climate for literature. From Sir Walter Scott to J. K. Rowling and Ian Rankin, many of the great figures English literature have connections with this Scottish city, whether visiting it, living there or being influenced by its writers.






The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886

‘Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm’.

While the novel may be set in London, it is common consensus among scots that this infamous story may just as well have been set in Edinburgh. The dual personality of the protagonist clearly echoes the Janus nature of the city itself, split between the Old Town with its closes, maze like streets and age old buildings, and the New Town, with its perfectly planned Georgian architecture. Robert Louis Stevenson is one of Scotland’s most beloved authors, and this novella is a must on any reading list.






The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Muriel Spark, 1961

Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life’.

Filmatised in 1969 starring Maggie Smith, this novel is considered a modern classic. Follow Jean Brodie and her girls, ‘the Brodie set’, parade through the Meadows and the Grass Market, as Miss Brodie applies her unconventional teaching methods. This novel uses frequent flash forward and flash back, making for an interesting read of how Miss Brodie was ‘in her prime’.






The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
James Hogg, 1824

‘Nothing in the world delights a truly religious people so much as consigning them to eternal damnation’.

Murder, intrigue, duels and family drama… explore Edinburgh at a time when brawls broke out on the Royal Mile and the Princes Street Gardens was still a Loch in the middle of the city. Calvinism and superstition also feature heavily, two influential and important aspects of Scottish history which remain part of the Scottish character today. Cultural influences of this novel still persist in today’s culture, far beyond the borders of Scotland.






Irvine Welsh, 1993

‘By definition, you have to live until you die. Better to make that life as complete and enjoyable an experience as possible, in case death is shite, which I suspect it will be’.

Now most famous as the cult classic film starring Ewan McGregor and Kevin McKidd, this is originally a novel set in Edinburgh and Leith. While Leith itself has undergone gentrification since the novel’s publication, Welsh shows with gritty realism the underside of any large city, even a picturesque one like Edinburgh. It is a challenging read, both style- and content wise, depicting characters riddled with addiction, frequent use of a broad scottish dialect and a narrative consisting mainly of short stories. The movie provides a great point of reference, so although this is supposed to be a list of novels, in this case the film is heartily recommended as well.






Hide and Seek
Ian Rankin, 1991

‘“Hide! Hide!”’

This is the second detective novel of one of Edinburgh’s resident writers, Ian Rankin. Following Inspector John Rebus as he reports to the scene of an overdose where the body is surrounded by symbols of satanic worship, his investigation leads to the discovery of a much larger systemic corruption. Like Welsh, Rankin uncovers the shady underside of the ‘posh’ city. This crime novel is full of literary allusions to John Keats, Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson, and in his preface to the novel, Rankin himself cites Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as one of his main influences. This is a book of mystery with one of the most enduring and influential ‘hard-boiled’ detectives created in recent times. If you are going to read one piece of tartan noir, read this one.


Suicide Squad


For all its promising trailers and casting choices, the hype surrounding this movie left the viewer slightly disappointed after seeing it.

The first half consisted mainly of introductions and exposition, and while it was cleverly done and executed, it felt rushed. Every bad guy needed a background to justify their crimes and attitude, and any explanatory text which appeared on screen disappeared before it could be read. Only two of the villainous cast give a lasting impression of being something more than a two dimensional character: Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). Deadshot is the real ‘hero’ of the story, and the plot tries valiantly to place him as its central character – the good guy among the bad guys. This is mainly achieved through his relationship with his daughter, sold to the audience as his ‘only weakness’. Not exactly a gripping back-story. While Harley Quinn is a fun wild card, lightening up every scene she is in, it could easily be said that the studio exploits Robbie’s physical appearance in order to sell more tickets. In a film with villains facing villains, Cara Delevigne fails to convince in her role as the Enchantress. Whether this is due to the studio failing to give her adequate screen time to establish her as the main villain, or because of lacking acting talent, is up for discussion. Other highly publicised members of the cast were barely in the movie at all, such as Jared Leto’s Joker who formed a sub-plot of a sub-plot.

Director David Ayer made a valiant attempt to give the film a comic book style feel, and the action sequences in particular succeeded in this. Other parts, such as a large folder labelled “top secret”, felt a little outdated and overstated. With a musical score which is reminiscent of the soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy, a team forced to work together (much like in Avengers Assemble) and a final showdown similar to the original Ghostbusters film, it feels as if Suicide Squad takes the bits which worked best for other films and capitalises on them. With films like Deadpool demonstrating how good and innovative antihero films can be these days, Suicide Squad just does not make the cut.

Me Before You


Me Before You is a heartfelt romcom with great performances from its two main actors, Emilia Clarke (Louisa ‘Lou’ Clark) and Sam Claflin (Will Traynor). Lou, the small-town English girl with an individual dress style becomes the carer of, and eventually falls in love with, her quadriplegic employer, Will. Things do not go smoothly, however, and it is endearing to watch the once stoic Traynor gradually open up to Lou and let some happiness into his life. 

The film is not without its problems though, and the press has more than adequately covered Me Before You’s notorious backlash for its depiction of disability. The notion that life is not worth living without the full operation of one’s limbs is both misleading and demeaning, and this is becoming somewhat of a cliché in films with characters suffering from paralysis; Alejandro Ameábar’s The Sea Inside (2004) springs to mind. Furthermore, serious subject matter such as euthanasia and depression become marginalised in favour of the romantic plot, and reactions to (and discussions of) assisted suicide are shown only in a superficial manner. 

What saves this film is the convincing characters and family relations the story has. Every family has its problems, whether they are incredibly wealthy or a struggling working class. The film is not without its comic moments, some of which are helped along by Patrick (Matthew Lewis), Lou’s sporty and self-absorbed boyfriend. Me Before You is a real tearjerker of a movie, and a must see for any Richard Curtis fan.

The Gospel of Loki


The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris is an incredibly fun read. Told from the first person perspective of the norse god Loki, it follows him from creation outside of Chaos until Ragnarok, the world’s end.

The novel serves as a good introduction to norse mythology, or a fun retelling for those with some prior knowledge of it. It includes most of its main events, such as the cutting off Sif’s hair, the theft of Thor’s hammer and the death of Balder. Each chapter gives a new “lessons” from the Lokabrenna, Loki’s gospel from the novel’s title, and it includes such fun sayings as: ‘A bird in the hand will leave you with birdshit on your fingers’ and ‘Killing the fans. Never the most efficient way to build on your public image’.

With the popularity of Marvel’s Loki (Tom Hiddleston) the novel could not be more aptly timed. Through his eyes we see the antihero sympathetically, and he often breaks the fourth wall by addressing his readers directly as ‘Yours Truly’. Loki is lonely, universally disliked and he invites us to join him in making the world pay for his mistreatment.

Whether the novel is original is debatable. Apart from making the norse myths more accessible, it does not add any new character dimensions or interpretations. Most of the characters are strikingly one dimensional, and only Thor and Odin feature prominently enough to be noticed. Neither does it expand on any world building beyond that which is strictly necessary. Due to the nature of the narrative, these things may not be necessary, but for those interested in a more expansive fantasy world, this is slightly disappointing.

The novel is fast paced and entertaining, yet Loki will always be known as the trickster god, the liesmith.  Can he be trusted in his own version of history?

Brave New World


5 stars

Based on the book by Aldous Huxley of the same name, Brave New World has been masterly adapted for the stage by Dawn King. Set in a dystopian future of a constructed society consisting of genetically engineered people, the play raises several emotional, scientific and moral questions about progress and about what it means to be human. In a world where ‘everyone belongs to everyone’, are ‘conditioned’ to act in a certain way and to like and dislike specific things, the play holds back no punches.

The set consists of sharp lines, squares and parallel geometric structures. These emphasise the underlying structure and nature of this futuristic society, where deviants and deviant behaviour from the norm are not tolerated, and anything that sets you apart from the rest of society is possibly catastrophic. It is a sterile world, where individuals have very little individuality. Transitions between scenes are fluid, and the same surfaces are instantly transformed for a new purpose.

Although there is a lot of explaining taking place, particularly in the first half of the play, it does not grow wearisome. Combined with the lighting and sound effects, which are used to perfection, it adds drama and a sinister feel to the New London setting. In fact, the visual and audial representations of the effects of the Soma (a drug that induces feelings of happiness and lust) and the Solidarity Group class (a space for eliminating inhibitions and boundaries between people) enhance the realism and the consuming effect of the reality of the play. The play is incredibly dynamic and physical, with many sensual and provocative moments, yet the characters themselves are emotionally restrained.

William Postlethwaite does a fantastic job of acting the role of John the Savage, a man caught between the two opposing realities in the play: the New Londoners and those on the Savage Reservation. Born naturally by Linda, an abandoned New Londoner among the savages, John is the only character in the play with familial bonds. Because of his heritage, the Savages reject him from their society; in New London, he is educated, but not conditioned. Brought into New London, his attempts to rebel and cause changes to the society he finds himself in fail because he is displaced, being nether a part of nor excluded from their society. Growing up he immersed himself in the world of Shakespeare, and his frequent quotations of the Bard are highly amusing and satirical, mocking the attitudes of those around him. Yet the strict morals and teachings in these works make him unable to respond to, or accept those of, the conditioned people, and this ultimately leads to his shocking end.

The play challenges its audience to engage with issues raised in the play, and its cyclical nature leaves the spectators with an uneasy feeling. Brave New World is an edgy, slick and perfectly executed piece of theatre, and the beauty of Brave New World is its universal and timeless relevance to modern society.


Love is Strange

love is strange cover and back cover

Love is Strange tells the story of a same-sex couple whose lives become difficult after getting married. As a time which should be filled with joy and happiness, George (Alfred Molina) instead loses his job as music teacher at a catholic school, and he and his financially dependent partner of thirty nine years Ben (John Lithgow), are forced to move out of their apartment. Taking refuge with their family and friends, they must live separately in a type of enforced separation. There is no happily ever after, and there is a distinct feeling of deep humiliation for the later in life couple. It is almost like a love story told in reverse, despite the initial marriage.

The film offers an examination of love and relationships put under stress, not only for Ben and George, but of their family and friends as well. The focus lies on the day-to-day, where the realities of life and of living in love is in focus, rather than the coming together. Ben and George are portrayed as individuals in a relationship, existing without co-dependence, reminding us that which we all are: committed individuals. The film also offers a social commentary on the legalisation of gay-marriage in the US: it may be permitted, but it is still not condoned by all levels of society.

Love is Strange is sweet, sad and humoristic in parts, with the actors giving heartfelt and honest performances. However, the film feels slow and disjointed, and the omission of a key scene (arguably its most dramatic moment), makes the audience feel oddly removed from the action of the plot. The film’s pathos is not realised to its full potential, which is a shame, given the portrayals the actors deliver. Overall, the Love is Strange is perceptive and sophisticated, offering plenty food for thought.

One Man, Two Guvnors


One Man, Two Guvnors is an explosion of farce that leaves you in stitches. Set in the sixties, with a complex but simple plot, it tells the story of Rachel (Alicia Davies), who is posing as her dead twin brother in order to get the money owed to him. With the money, she can escape with her boyfriend, Stanley (Patrick Warner), who is also her brother’s murderer. In the middle of this is Francis (Gavin Spokes), who takes up a job with Stanley for the chance of a decent meal, and he must keep Rachel and Stanley apart so that they won’t discover that he’s working for them both. He is one man, with two governors.

Although the start of the performance is slightly dull, consisting mostly of exposition and introduction, it picks up pace in the third scene. Initially the Brighton dialect is hard to understand, and some cultural references are lost on the younger audience. There are, however, plenty references to The Beatles.

The transitions between the scenes are very good: with a band named ‘The Craze’ taking the stage with 60s style rock music, occasionally joined by the cast, filling the time between the impressive set-changes.

None of the characters are particularly likeable, although Alan (Edward Hancock), the would-be actor, stands out for his over-dramatic flair. At times the play resembles a pantomime rather than a National Theatre production, with cross-dressing and involvement from the audience; something the ensemble themselves remark upon. The cast, especially Francis, break the forth wall, and there are striking elements of meta-theatre. Francis, who is motivated by hunger in the first half, starts the second half by asking the audience if anyone has contemplated what his character’s motivation will be in this part of the play, considering he has now been fed.

One Man, Two Guvnors is a manic, highly satirical and self-satirising play, leaving you with the overall impression is that it is perhaps all a little overdone, but it is done purposefully so.


Ride Along 2


3 stars
Michelle Mackie

Ride Along 2 is a classic cop movie which adds nothing new to the genre. It features the stereotypical “good cop, bad cop” routine, where the bad cop is terrible at his job. The two stars of the movie are Kevin Heart (Ben) and the rapper Ice Cube (the “good cop” James).

The film itself feels like a longer version of a hip-hop music video: it objectifies beautiful women, particularly during the time the movie is set in Miami, features expensive cars (which it is highly unlikely that police officers could realistically afford), and the soundtrack consists mostly of hip-hop songs. Sometimes this works very well, as Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” is used ironically for comic effect. However, most of the comic scenes in the film fall flat, although the Kevin Heart tries valiantly to make a fool out of himself by doing over the top things, such as falling into a chicken-pen when he is trying to catch a criminal.

There is one strong female character in the movie, Maya (Olivia Munn), yet she is portrayed as an angry and sullen homicide detective. She is James’s love interest in the film, and they bond over their mutual dislike for Ben. Unfortunately, the romance does not convince the audience.

Furthermore, it is a movie of questionable morality, as the two cops are seen breaking and entering, gate-crashing a party, forming a partnership with the criminal A.J. (Ken Jeong), and destroying several cars and properties. They are also very trigger happy, and a line that stands out in the movie is “say that again and I’ll shoot you in the face”.

What saves this movie is its director, Tim Story, whose use of cinematography is very efficient and cool. An episode that particularly stands out is the use of video-game graphics during a car chase, which ties in with a scene earlier in the film when Ben plays Grand Theft Auto. In the end, Ride Along 2 is basically a movie where Kevin Heart and Ice Cube are being Kevin Heart and Ice Cube.

Sue (Or in a Season of Crime) – David Bowie


4 Stars

David Bowie’s latest single, ‘Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)’, was debuted on BBC Radio 6 Music on Sunday 12.10.2014. Released in connection to his forthcoming greatest hits compilation Nothing Has Changed, the piece acts as a statement for Bowie’s continued experiment with different music genres, which has defined his career. The seven-and-a-half minutes of experimental jazz has rock undertones, and is reminiscent of Bowie’s Station to Station period. Although the vocals sound slightly strained and operatic in places, ‘Sue’ is an odyssey for the ears. The lyrics are brave and thought provoking; expressing love, insecurity, drama, loss and heartache simultaneously. The tune of the song itself can be hard to decipher, swelling and ebbing like the sea, and its uniqueness challenges the listener. Bowie is not complacent and the song is much more experimental than anything on The Next Day.

Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story Review


[The Student Newspaper]

4 Stars

Oh Boy! Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story is an experience. Half musical theatre and half concert, the cast churn out crowd-pleaser after crowd-pleaser, whilst simultaneously telling the story of Buddy Holly’s (Roger Rowley) rise to fame. Each scene details an important event in Buddy’s musical career, starting with The Grand Bowl in Lubbock, Texas, and finishing with his last concert in Clear Lake, Iowa. Continue reading