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08Feb

Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan review – lives in the margins in gothic Edinburgh chiller

The city’s 20th-century history is refracted through the mysterious occupants of a cursed tenement building in Fagan’s richly claustrophobic novel

Jenni Fagan’s third novel is a ripely imagined history, spanning 90 years of life in an Edinburgh tenement building, 10 Luckenbooth Close. This structure enables the careful stacking of characters, political eras and social contexts, floor by floor and decade by decade, from 1910 to 1999. The novel unfolds like a set of dark short stories, with a different character narrating or guiding each one. But there’s a twist: Luckenbooth is not just haunted by the realities of time and history, but also by the strong musk of the gothic imagination.

The opening scenes comprise a portentous origins story, in which a young woman rows ashore in a coffin, arrives in Luckenbooth Close and is used as a surrogate by a wealthy couple. According to this traumatised and painfully self-hating founding character, her late father is the devil and she herself carries a diabolical curse, which goes on to permeate the lives of all subsequent residents of the building for the next century.

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