Goblin by Ever Dundas

A unique life, uniquely told…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Goblin is an old lady now, working as a Reader in an Edinburgh library. But when the newspapers report that a strange pile of objects have been unearthed – bones, bits of a doll, a shrew head and a camera – she is thrust back into memories of her early life as a street urchin in wartime London. The camera still works and when the police develop the pictures they determine they could only have been taken by a child, and now they want Goblin to come in for an interview.

Although there is a mystery around the photos and why the police want to interview Goblin, this is rather secondary. The book is really the story of Goblin’s life – the events in it, but also her inner life, her imagined reality. This gives it the feel of some kind of magical realism though, in fact, there’s no actual supernatural element to it. It is a strange book, dark in places and with some truly disturbing aspects, but because of the beautifully drawn central character it has a warmth and humanity that helps the reader to get through the tougher parts. There’s also kindness here, and love, so while some parts are distressing, the overall effect is of compassion rather than bleakness.

Goblin’s mother disliked and neglected her daughter, calling her Goblin-runt, hence the nickname that stayed with her throughout her life. As a result, she ran almost wild, spending most of her time outside playing with her friends and her beloved dog Devil. Dundas evokes this childhood superbly, showing how important imagination is in childish games, how children form little societies of their own with their own hierarchies, detached from the adult world, and how they view the lives of the adults around them from a unique perspective, sometimes only half-comprehending, sometimes perhaps seeing more clearly than older people who have wrapped themselves in society’s conventions. She also shows how scary the world can be and how children build their own mental defences from things they can’t properly process. Goblin the child is a wonderful creation.

When war begins, Goblin is sent off as an evacuee to the country. Dundas presents a dark view of evacuation, with some of the children being used as no more than unpaid workers – one could almost say slaves – and subject to various forms of cruelty and abuse. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, so I’ll skip ahead to say that a later point Goblin finds herself working in a circus, and later yet, as a woman, she spends time in Italy before ending up in Edinburgh. Each part of her story is told well, although for me adult Goblin never became as beguiling a character as the child.

As she grows, we hear far too much graphic detail about her sexual experiences for my liking, with the emphasis firmly on anatomical mechanics rather than emotion. There is also an unfortunate descent into repetitive foul language, sexual and otherwise, including frequent and entirely unnecessary use of the ‘c’-word. (I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – in years of reading thousands of reviews, I have never once seen a reviewer complain that a book would have been better if only there had been more foul language in it.) There’s also a not entirely successful stream-of-consciousness or experimental section in the middle, but fortunately it’s not too long. I admit I came near to abandoning it at this point, which would have been a shame because it returns to a high standard in the latter parts.

Goblin is an animal lover, her life filled from childhood with various creatures she has rescued. For those sensitive to the treatment of animals in fiction, there are some difficult scenes, a couple of which have left me with images I’d prefer not to have. But these are essential to the book and not presented in a gratuitous way. They go towards explaining who Goblin is, and they are grounded in the truth of wartime; aspects we may have chosen to sanitise or forget over the years, but which deserve to be remembered as much perhaps as the effects of war on humans.

Ever Dundas

Except for the section in the middle that I’ve already mentioned, the writing is of a very high quality and altogether this is an intriguing début. I enjoyed some parts of it hugely, some less so, and some not at all, but I thought that overall it shows immense promise and a refreshing originality. The author is clearly someone willing to take a risk, to avoid following the herd, and I am interested to see where she heads in the future. I suspect she may go to places too dark or too graphic for me to want to follow her, but I also think she has the talent and intelligence to develop into a major novelist of the future. This book won the Saltire Society Literary Award for First Book of the Year (2017) – a well-deserved winner in my opinion. Despite my somewhat mixed feelings, I recommend it not just for what it is but as an enticing introduction to an author with great potential.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Saraband.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

35 thoughts on “Goblin by Ever Dundas

  1. What an interesting and unusual-sounding book, FictionFan. I’m with you when it comes to language and anatomical detail, so those parts of the story would definitely not interest me. Still, the overall story sounds fascinating. And it sounds as though Dundas did the child’s perspective rather well.


    • Very unusual, Margot, and for the most part it works. But I do get grumpy about language and graphic sex… or graphic anything really (as you know only too well! 😉 ) I’ll be keen to see where she goes in the future – she certainly shows a lot of originality.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting indeed! I hope the author reads this and sees your glowing words about her talent and intelligence – Ms Dundas there is no higher praise in the land than from our own dear FF! I have to admit, I probably won’t end up reading this, but it does sound intriguing – especially the parts featuring young Goblin. I love the thought that the utter brilliance of a child’s imagination has been caught so well on the page. It’s always heartening to see a writer take a brave new direction and do it well. I wish this author all the very, very best for the future, even though this dull and old-fashioned reader probably won’t be among her most ardent readership.


    • Aw, thank you! 😀 She certainly shows a lot of originality and Goblin the child is done brilliantly. The wartime story is also excellent – seen from a different viewpoint than usual – though there were aspects of it which were much darker than my taste normally runs to. I suspect she’s going to do very well in her career, though, like you, I’m not sure she’ll be writing my kind of stuff. But that’s good – it would be awful if every author was doing the same thing…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What interesting names – the author (Ever) and the protagonist (Goblin) with a dog named Devil. Wow. I liked the sound of the book from your review, And the part about the children being evacuated and what happened is very intriguing. Good job relating the book to us – good and less good parts. 🙂


    • Thanks, Kay! 🙂 I love the name Ever Dundas – it has a kind of ring of fantasy about it, while still sounding nicely Scottish! It’s a really original take on the war – darker than a lot of the books that come out, and I loved seeing it from the perspective of a child. I think she has a good future ahead of her…


  4. A Reader in an Edinburgh library – my dream job (along with chocolate taster and bed tester), but not I think a book for me.


  5. Hmm, probably another one that isn’t for me, but I do love how generous and fair you are, FF, in your reviews. I’m right there with you, in not appreciating today’s propensity for unnecessary foul language as well as cruelty in any way toward animals. Still, your description of Goblin as a child just might redeem this one.


    • Aw, thanks, Debbie! I felt I was being a little harsh on this, but I do get fed up with the modern tendency to think that throwing in foul language makes a book gritty – it really doesn’t! The animal stuff in this was tough, but not at all gratuitous. However, knowing you’re a softie like me, I think you’d struggle with some of the images. They’re not a huge part of the overall thing though, and Goblin the child is a great characterisation… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! 😀 I do think the strengths of this one outweigh what I saw as its weaknesses, and her originality was so refreshing. I’m very interested to see where her career takes her…


  6. The first paragraph really captured me and sent my imagination running.

    I’m surprised by the author photo; I would have thought maybe someone older would be more interested in this history because they’re closed to it, which makes me wonder if the author has a family member who inspired the character.

    It’s funny that you mentioned no one ever asks for more vulgar language in their reviews. I think I actually DID not long ago! It was one of my vampire books; the narrator kept using what bordered on baby talk, so I couldn’t help but desire some adult talk! Adult talk doesn’t necessarily mean profanity, but I would prefer it to babyish language like “lambikins.” *shudder*


    • Yes, it’s an intriguing premise! I don’t know anything about what inspired her, but the Brits continue to be obsessed by the WW2 for reasons that escape me – maybe it was the last time we felt like “Great” Britain. Though the Britain she portrays is far from being great…

      Haha! You have to be different! 😉 Truthfully, I don’t think foul language is the opposite of babytalk though. I don’t see constant swearing when addressing strangers (which is what readers are) as in any way adult – it strikes me as the sign either of the adolescent or the uneducated. And when women do it, it strikes me that they’re just trying to show that they can be as crude as men – not what feminists of my generation really aspired to when we talked about equality! Sure, most people swear to some degree in real life (when they’re amongst people they know won’t be offended by it), but I’ve never thought the job of writers is to parrot real life – it’s to create something either beautiful or profound or exciting, or hopefully all three… *steps down from high horse* 😉


      • That’s super interesting, and I hadn’t thought of it that way: “I’ve never thought the job of writers is to parrot real life.” I DO write (not a lot lately; it’s hard), and I’m going to be thinking about what you said in many ways, beyond diction.


  7. This does sound original although maybe a bit too experimental for my tastes but it sounds like it works in part at least. Your comments about the foul language make me smile because although I’ve been known to use fruity language I do take a deep breath when the stronger terms are written in books – there is no need! Great review of a book that sounds as though it is challenging both in the content and for review writing purposes 😉


    • Thank you! 😀 Some parts, especially the stuff about Goblin as a child in the war, worked really well for me, and I liked the originality to a degree. But on the whole I’m a fan of telling a great story in a plain way, so the more experimental stuff tends to put me off unless it’s done brilliantly. Haha – I’m glad I’m not the only one. I swear too, but only when in the company of people I know won’t be offended by it. It always makes me laugh that the vast majority of us asterisk out the swear words in quotes on our blogs, showing that we really don’t think our readers will appreciate them! You’d think authors might get the hint… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • The war time stuff was great – I loved the characterisation of Goblin as a child. I wasn’t as keen on the circus section though, but thought it picked up again after that. Definitely loads of potential there though!

      Thanks for popping in and commenting. 😀


    • I often think readers of the future will look back at the books of today and wonder what happened that a society that used to produce the likes of Dickens and Austen is now reduced to effin’ and c’in’ all over the place… *wanders off to the old folks’ home*

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Another one that sounds a bit too grim for my tastes these days, but your review was very fair and complimentary. I do also appreciate an author not following the herd and I hope she can continue to write interesting books that appeal to you!


    • Yes, it was great to read something with a lot of originality even if there were bits that didn’t work for me. I have a feeling she may always be too graphic for my tastes, but I’ll follow her career with interest anyway… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Goblin is such a unique title, this book is really intriguing to me. I will agree with you 100% about the foul language too, it really bothers me when I read too much of it in a book. Like seriously, I know we’re trying to be realistic, but if it’s a work of fiction, can’t we do without it? oh, and I hate stream of consciousness writing, as a rule.


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