James Hogg (1770-1835) was born in the Ettrick Valley in the Scottish Borders. When he was seven, his father, a sheep farmer, went bankrupt and Hogg left school hardly able to read; he could only shape letters "nearly an inch in length," he wrote later in his autobiography. For many years, he worked as a cowherd and later as a shepherd. His mother, however, steeped him in ballads and folklore, and his grandfather was apparently the last man to talk with the fairies. Only in his twenties, when Hogg was exposed to books once more, did he begin to write, his first creations being "songs and ballads made up for the lassies to sing in chorus." At forty, he set out for Edinburgh and, after starting the short-lived satirical magazine The Spy, he wrote poems and stories for Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, first published in 1824, has long been considered his masterpiece. Margot Livesey was born and grew up on the edge of the Scottish Highlands and now lives in the US. She is the author of a collection of stories and four novels: Homework, Criminals, The Missing World, and Eva Moves the Furniture.
James Hogg's great novel is set in eighteenth-century Edinburgh, a
city of night and shadow, of lurking eavesdroppers and invisible
pursuers, of gloomy wynds and crepuscular crannies. The novel
splits and doubles itself, its themes, and its characters: two
texts, one following the other, are written from two different
points of view; narrating the same terrible story, they contradict
each other here and there, forming an asymmetrical diptych, all the
more compelling for its discordancy and conflicts.
-- Marina Warner
A work so moving, so funny, so impassioned, so exact and so
mysterious, that its emergence from a long history of neglect came
as a surprise which has yet to lose its resonance.
-- Karl Miller, The Times Literary Supplement
Neglected at first, this brilliant short novel has climbed in the esteem of readers until it is now regarded as one of the glories of English literature--or, for those who like to subdivide these matters, of Scottish literature.
-- John Wain