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Bob Cant: Something Chronic (Word Power)

A Rip Van Winkle for our times, Dundonian Euan Saddler casts his vote in the 1979 devolution referendum then falls into a sleep that lasts for 20 years.

When he awakes, it is 1999 - not the one we remember, but an alternate version in which two opposing visions of an independent Scotland are competing for hearts and minds.

While his psychologist, a Bosnian émigré named Haris, is helping him adjust to the new world around him, Euan resumes the exploration of his sexuality, which was curtailed when he fell asleep at the age of 19 and, to his amazement, discovers that he can summon ghosts. Outside, a war of words is being waged, with the organisation Scotland First, and its mouthpiece Radio Dighty, spearheading a campaign to promote the most xenophobic, reactionary strain of nationalism imaginable.

However, Scotland First's insularity is very different from the Scotland that Euan is encountering in his daily life. The local paper is edited by a woman of Indian descent, who has two friends who are endeavouring to suffuse their pub with a women-friendly ambience. Radio Dighty's insistence that homosexuality is "as un-Scottish as vegetarian haggis" falls on deaf ears in pubs where multicultural bands perform and the favoured pastime is the democratic activity of karaoke. And Haris, who has seen what "romantic nationalism" did to Bosnia, sees it as a path leading nowhere but to trouble and misery.

The comparison with Bosnia does seem somewhat forced. In any case, although Euan does have a part to play late on in the story, he spends most of it as a detached onlooker, too concerned with getting his own life back on track and finding a nice boyfriend to really worry about the political landscape, only engaging with the situation when he is left with little choice.

Although it is not strictly played for laughs, Something Chronic has a comic novel's lightness of touch rather than the solemnity of a dire warning from history. It is a cautionary tale, with romantic and supernatural elements, and supporting players who have enough life and character development to keep us reading, if not quite enough to make us care deeply about them.

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