the guardian Tue 13 November 2012
The son of an abusive father who enlists to fight in the first world war and never comes back, Andy Walker is a volatile character, with a "flashing temper" and a "jaunty air of recklessness" which constantly gets him in trouble. A reluctant pupil, he gives up school at 13 "to work at the hay", with ambitions to elevate himself from lowly farmhand to ploughman, a position of some status in the Scottish community of Wigtownshire. Published in 1939, McNeillie's novel caused controversy with its raw exposé of rural poverty, and led to new legislation to improve the lot of agricultural labourers. Describing with blunt simplicity the intensity of the backbreaking toil and squalid existence of Andy and his ilk, McNeillie creates a bleak tableau of deprivation and depravity. Yet there's also beauty in the harsh landscape, and even Andy, pugilistic womaniser that he is, is moved by an inexpressible love for his surroundings. A man tragically trapped by his own circumstances, Andy is a brutish yet compelling protagonist. Hopefully, with this re-issue, he will find the wider readership he deserves.