Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

The advent of the First World War brought about the end of a whole way of life in the Scottish countryside that had persisted for perhaps a thousand years. With technological change picking up pace as well, the old patterns were swept away. It was a ‘sunset song’ for a harsh yet beautiful existence. In this novel of 1932 Lewis Grassic Gibbon (real name: James Leslie Mitchell, gives us the story of Chris Guthrie growing up in the Howe of the Mearns at ‘Kinraddie’ in Kincardineshire (based on Arbuthnott), marrying, being widowed and surviving. Gibbon employs the rhythms and vocabulary of the Scots language to deliver a tale of heartbreaking poignancy and power. There are passages of pure lyricism, particularly in the descriptions of the natural world, which demand to be read over and over again. The novel forms the first part of the trilogy A Scots Quair’, the second and third parts being Cloud Howe (1933) and Grey Granite (1934). These follow the story of Chris into a second marriage and later adulthood. For those who yearn to write the definitive Scottish novel, forget it. It’s already been done. It’s Sunset Song.

To set Grassic Gibbon in context reach for Grassic Gibbon and His World (1994) by Peter Whitfield (

Also enjoy Ian Campbell, Lewis Grassic Gibbon (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985)(

For an authoritative analysis of the novel, and an overview of the political and historical background to its creation turn to Douglas Young’s Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s “Sunset Song” (1998) (

For an appreciative article about Sunset Song by someone who grew up in Aberdeenshire, Radio 4 presenter James Naughtie, click on the link here

Enjoy the Grassic Gibbon Centre website at Even better, visit the Howe of the Mearns ( where it is still possible to imagine the kind of lives depicted so gloriously in Sunset Song.

This was made into a TV mini series in 1971 ( with Vivien Heilbron playing Chris Guthrie, and has also been adapted for the stage.

[November 2015]  Sunset Song has been brought to the screen in 2015 by Terence Davies ( It stars Agyness Deyn, Peter Mullan and Kevin Guthrie. It has received mixed reviews (, but is most certainly worth watching to make up your own mind whilst enjoying the lavish cinematography.

[Postscript at October 2016 – ‘Sunset Song’ has been voted the nation’s favourite novel in a survey of October 2016. Cf.]

294 pages in Canongate paperback edition

First published 1932

ISBN  978-1841957562

Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Scroll to Top