The Cone Gatherers … a review

Two brothers, Neil and Calum, are gathering cones from the wooded area of a large estate. The cones have seeds in them which will be used later to plant new forests. The time is during the world war and the scene is Scotland. The brothers have not had to enlist as Calum is a hunchback and a simpleton, and as his only relation Neil is his guardian. The estate’s owner is at war and in his absence, the figure of authority is his wife, the Lady. Other characters include the gamekeeper Duror and the Lady’s young son and heir, Roderick.

Duror’s wife is an invalid. And he has a problem with Calum, who, in his opinion is a cripple, and therefore evil. During the course of the novel, Duror progressively becomes obsessed with hatred, his health quickly fails, and he turns into an incoherent bumbling man twisted by his notions of Christianity, good, and right. These events lead to a brilliant climax that brings together all the characters at a tranquil spot, by a loch, in the pines; each engaged in a struggle with himself and his maker. According to Wiki,

“The novel is filled with heavy symbolism, including some of the following:

  • The woods, representing the Garden of Eden. While the outside world is filled with the death and destruction of the ongoing war, the woods are filled with life and colour.
  • Calum, embodying innocence and purity.
  • Duror, embodying darkness, and a parallel for the serpent in the Garden of Eden
  • Roderick, demonstrating social equality
  • Lady Runcie-Campbell & Neil, both epitomising their polarised views of the social class division
  • The cones – symbolising renewal, regeneration”

Now, I picked up this book only because it is set in Scotland and it was available at the library. I had no idea what to expect. What I found was a tale dripping with rich prose and symbolism. A story, that just like massively popular classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and Animal Farm, makes us question our faith in forced goodness and inherent evil in men. Concepts of class, superiority, and constant internal wars are delivered in a matter-of-fact way, just as they always are, in everyday life. It is every individual engaging in his/her own personal battles against the dogma fed to us by religion and history. I do not know why I had never heard of the book or the author, Robin Jenkins, but this book should be on the reading lists in schools everywhere. I found out then, that it is, in Scotland. I highly recommend this book, especially for 15 – 20 year olds. Good Christmas present for those kids, nieces, nephews!

3 thoughts on “The Cone Gatherers … a review

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