THE classic 20th-century novel, Sunset Song, has been voted Scotland's favourite book, in a new poll announced at the Edinburgh International Book Festival yesterday.

Lewis Grassic Gibbon's novel, the first of the trilogy A Scots Quair, won almost a 10th of the 5000 votes, which were submitted by e-mail and text message.

A staple of school reading lists, it recounts the difficult life story of Chris Guthrie, a young woman growing up in a repressive farming community in the northeast of Scotland at the start of the 20th century.

Published in 1932 and written in Scots, it deals with issues such as the effects of the first world war, modernisation in traditional family communities, and the nature of the changing national identity. It also raised eyebrows when it first came out, with its realistic treatment of sex and childbirth, and sometimes brutal portrayal of family life.

The book, written under a pseudonym by James Leslie Mitchell, was almost unheard of by the 1950s, but has been steadily growing in popularity. It was made into a drama by the BBC, first screened in 1971, starring Vivien Heilbron.

A panel chaired by the BBC journalist James Naughtie, and including Professor Willy Maley of Glasgow University, and the authors Ian Rankin, Zoe Strachan and Louise Welsh, discussed a shortlist of ten books.

The runners-up were The Game Of Kings, a 1962 historical novel by Dorothy Dunnett, closely followed by Irvine Welsh's 1993 cult classic Trainspotting, with just over and just under 300 votes respectively. The competition, backed by the Scottish Book Trust and The List magazine, was sponsored by the mobile telephone network, Orange.

Plaudits flowed in from literary experts and academics for the top choice, seen as a worthy and uncontroversial winner. Professor Ian Campbell, of Edinburgh University, said: "It has stood the test of time from 1932 to 2004 and has got more popular. I'm not sure if this will be true for the others.

"Sunset Song is wonderfully teachable and I have been studying it for 40 years with generation after generation of young people.

Hugh Andrew, managing director of Birlinn and Polygon publishers said that - together with James Hogg's The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of A Justified Sinner, also in the top 10 - Sunset Song was a winner from the outset.

"It is an absolutely deserved victor, although I would question the purpose served by this endless competition to find the best books, " he said.

The competition began in March, after the publication of a guide of the "100 Best Scottish Books of all Time", launched on World Book Day and sparking controversy for including a number of books with questionable claims to Scottishness.

Maley, author of the original list, said he was disappointed that Dunnett did not win the overall competition. "I read Dorothy Dunnett in 1980 when I was working in the library and someone recommended her historical romance with its injection of fantasy. It is credible work in the tradition of, and as good as Sir Walter Scott, and she has a world reputation and fantastic success.

"Sunset Song is read at school but is a novel that people greatly like despite the fact that it is on the syllabus. Nevertheless, it is an uncontroversial, so-what choice, even if it has the best title, and Trainspotting the dullest."

Maley said it was interesting that the first and third choices represent stereotypes of Scotland's feminised and "hard-man" voices, but in fact are not dissimilar as social commentaries.

But the notion of the list was criticised as an "essay in frivolity" and "diversions from deeper attention" by Alan Riach, professor of Scottish Literature at Glasgow University. His talk at the Book Festival at 4pm tomorrow will include the subject of such book lists.



Prelude: The Unfurrowed Field "Kinraddie lands had been won by a Norman childe, Cospatric de Gondeshil, in the days of William the Lyon, when gryphons and such-like beasts still roamed the Scots countryside and folk would waken in their beds to hear the children screaming, with a great wolf-beast, come through the hide window, tearing at their throats. In the Den of Kinraddie one such beast had its lair and by day it lay about the woods and the stench of it was awful to smell all over the countryside, and at gloaming a shepherd would see it, with its great wings halffolded across the great belly of it and its head, like the head of a meikle cock, but with the ears of a lion, poked over a fir tree, watching."

Isabella Williamson, manager of the Lewis Grassic Gibbon Centre in Arbuthnott: "Everything you look for in a book: the romance, the sorrow, the sadness."

Professor Willy Maley, Glasgow University: "An uncontroversial, so-what choice."


Opening Gambit: Threat to a Castle "Lymond is back."

It was known soon after the Sea-Catte reached Scotland from Campvere with an illicit cargo and a man she should not have carried.

"Lymond is in Scotland."

It was said by busy men preparing for war against England, with contempt, with disgust; with a side-slipping look at one of their number. "I hear the Lord Culter's young brother is back." Only sometimes a woman's voice would say it with a different note, and then laugh a little. Lymond's own men had known he was coming. Waiting for him in Edinburgh they wondered briefly, without concern, how he proposed to penetrate a walled city to reach them."

Professor Ian Campbell, Edinburgh University: "Dunnett is an immensely talented shaper of plots, and a really professional author. More people are reading her work than have read Grassic Gibbon."

Alan Taylor, editor of the Scottish Review of Books: "Dorothy Dunnett would have been as surprised as anyone else, but she has a faultlessly loyal fan base who have voted in their numbers."


The Skag Boys, JeanClaude Van Damme and Mother Superior: "The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling. Ah wis jist sitting thair, focusing oan the telly, tryin no tae notice the c***. He wis bringing me doon. Ah tried tae keep ma attention oan the Jean-Claude Van Damme video. As happens in such movies, they started oaf wi an obligatory dramatic opening. Then the next phase ay the picture involved building up the tension through introduction the dastardly villain and sticking the weak plot thegither. Any minute now though, auld JeanClaude's ready tae git doon tae some serious swedgin.

- Rents. Ah've goat tae see Mother Superior, Sick Boy gasped, shaking his heid.

- Aw, ah sais. Ah wanted the radge tae jist fuck off ootay ma visage, tae go oan his ain, n jist leave us wi Jean-Claude.

Prof Willy Maley: "It's a rabble, that's what's great about it."

Kenneth White: The poet compared Irvine Welsh's writing to the "remains of last night's fish supper, sauced up with sordid naturalism".


4. LANARK By Alasdair Gray (1981)


6. 1984 By George Orwell (1949)

7. BORN FREE by Laura Hird (1999)

8. AN OIDHCHE MUS DO SHEOL SINN (The Night Before We Sailed) By Aonghas Caimbeul (2003)

9. THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE By Muriel Spark (1961)