(Coming out September 28th, 2018)
Karna’s Wheel is set in contemporary St Andrews, Dundee (1915-1923), Calcutta (1923-1946) and on the epic plains of ancient India. It is a tale of sons, lovers, mothers and their journey; and of Séamus, a stunted Irishman who helps them on their way. Stephen, the son, is the narrator, a Sanskrit academic, defensive, a dream addict in search of answers. Kitty is the mother, half-Indian, half-Scots, a woman with a murky present who holds tight to the secrets of her past. And Julia is the lover with secrets of her own which Stephen has to earn the right to hear.
Karna’s Wheel is compelling, multi-layered and beautifully written. Set in Scotland and India, it interweaves class and colonialism across the generations in a novel which is never less than highly entertaining.
Chris Given-Wilson, shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize, 2017
Emerging from the faded fragments of his own untold history is Stephen’s grandfather, who escapes from the strife of Dundee to the jute mills of Calcutta... where he finds, not the paradise of the Dundonian dream, but the stuff of the film script which Séamus decides to write. And then there is Karna himself, the armour-plated hero of Stephen’s Sanskrit imaginings: the hero cast out and down, the Hamlet, the Captain Ahab, the James Dean of all our memories.
Exquisitely written, quirky and wonderfully readable, Karna’s Wheel is touching, humorous, informative and pretty shocking. The research is faultless but never stands in the way of a good story. I hope it gets where it deserves to be – on the bestseller lists.
Robin Pilcher, Novelist.
I used to work in an old jute mill in Dundee. By the time I got there it had more or less moved over to the jute substitute, polypropylene – that was before it closed forever, and before jute made its comeback as the eco-bag of choice.
Historical fiction at the cutting edge... A bravura performance of style and structure .
Gordon T Stewart, Professor Emeritus of History, Michigan State University
Dundee calls itself Juteopolis, city of jute 1. When the whaling fleet came in, some drunken sailor spilt whale oil on a bale of that useless fibrous plant grown only in Bengal, and Dundee discovered it could turn jute into sacks, dross into gold.
I think it [Karna's Wheel] is magnificent. The portrait of Stephen the elder is extremely touching, perhaps even potentially dangerous. What would happen if everyone started cutting off their armour? Seamus is hilarious ... leaped off the page.
Dr Simon Brodbeck, Cardiff University (Sanskrit).
For a hundred years, sacks were big business – among fibres, jute was second only to cotton – and it was these sacks which enslaved the Dundonians in the mills and gave them dreams of riches untold if only they could get themselves to the mills of Calcutta.
Dazzling and inventive ... an enthralling journey into early 20th century Calcutta and the dark corners of the Raj
Andrew Duff, author of ‘Sikkim, Requiem for a Himalayan kingdom
Some did. Some became rich. Some, succumbing to the tedium and violence of the manager’s life, left the compound and discovered the other India that the white man didn’t touch.
Coming out September 28th, 2018
1 Dundee also likes to think its name derives from donum dei, gift of God. Its inhabitants, in spite of everything, retain their sense of humour.