Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott — New Review

I was due to pay a visit to my aunt in Selkirk last month, during which I would have been taken to see a house where Sir Walter Scott once stayed. (I deliberately haven’t looked it up, so as not to spoil the surprise for myself, so I can’t give more details.) Having no particular knowledge of Walter Scott, except that he was an author of historical and Scottish fiction, I thought I’d better read at least something he had written. I picked Rob Roy for the very simple reason that I already owned a copy.

Since I knew almost nothing about the novel, I asked a few likely friends whether they’d read it. Nickie had, and her description could basically be summed up as ‘a romp that didn’t particularly care about historical accuracy’. That sounded pretty good!

I’d assumed, naively, that Rob Roy would be the main character of Rob Roy, so I wasn’t expecting Frank Osbaldistone. I took a liking to him, especially when he decided to stand up to his father and pursue a life of poetry over one of commerce. When he started to troll his travelling companion, I thought I could really enjoy reading more of his antics.

No schoolboy, who, betwixt frolic and defiance, had executed a similar rash attempt, could feel himself, when adrift in a strong current, in a situation more awkward than mine when I found myself driving, without a compass, on the ocean of human life.

Rob Roy, Walter Scott

Sadly, Frank didn’t get up to much after that. A lot happened to him, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to care about the machinations of Rasheligh Osbaldistone, nor the mystery behind Diana Vernon. Frank’s decision to hare off to the Scottish highlands with a gardener and a bailiff seemed somewhat unjustified, and I struggled to follow the plot. Rob Roy was finally introduced, mostly in positions to help get Frank out of trouble. I never really understood what his motivation was, since Frank was just an Englishman he didn’t know.

I’ve read older books than Rob Roy, but I found the prose particularly impenetrable. The dialogue in various Scottish dialects didn’t help, but I don’t think that was even the main problem. I couldn’t tell you exactly what the trouble was, except that the long, long sentences were somewhat difficult to parse. There were scattered metafictional elements, which I enjoyed, but these tailed off towards the middle and end of the novel. I ended up making myself a book timeline, to see how Rob Roy compares to other things I’ve read.

My trip to Scotland ended up being postponed, and while I’ll look forward to going to see the house, I don’t think I’ll rush to read any more Walter Scott.

Next, I’ll be reading The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.

Rating: 1 out of 5.