Joseph Knight

By James Robertson

Synopsis

Exiled to Jamaica after the Battle of Culloden in 1746, Sir John Wedderburn made a fortune, alongside his three brothers, as a faux surgeon and sugar planter. In the 1770s, he returned to Scotland to marry and re-establish the family name. He brought with him Joseph Knight, a black slave and a token of his years in the Caribbean. Now, in 1802, Sir John Wedderburn is settling his estate, and has hired a solicitor's agent, Archibald Jamieson, to search for his former slave. The past has haunted Wedderburn ever since Culloden, and ever since he last saw Knight, in court twenty-four years ago, in a case that went to the heart of Scottish society, pitting master against slave, white against black, and rich against poor. As long as Knight is missing, Wedderburn will never be able to escape the past. Yet what will he do if Jamieson's search is successful? And what effect will this re-opening of old wounds have on those around him? Meanwhile, as Jamieson tries to unravel the true story of Joseph Knight he begins to question his own motivation. How can he possibly find a man who does not want to be found? James Robertson's second novel is a tour de force, the gripping story of a search for a life that stretches over sixty years and moves from battlefields to the plantations of Jamaica, from Enlightenment Edinburgh to the back streets of Dundee. It is a moving narrative of history, identity and ideas, that dramatically retells a fascinating but forgotten episode of Scottish history.

Year of Publication

Review

The past, in the novels of James Robertson, is not just, as William Faulkner said, “not even past“. It is urgent, pressing and angry. In telling the story of a black slave who argued for his freedom in Scotland, Robertson strips veils of smugness from the uncomfortable reality and gives a dignity back to his absent central character. Polemics and poetics coincide in this brave and bitter reckoning. -- Stuart Kelly

Author Biography

James Robertson (born 1958) is a Scottish writer who grew up in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire. He is the author of several short story and poetry collections, and has published four novels: The Fanatic, Joseph Knight, The Testament of Gideon Mack, and And the Land Lay Still. The Testament of Gideon Mack was long-listed for the 2006 Man Booker Prize. Robertson also runs an independent publishing company called Kettillonia, and is a co-founder (with Matthew Fitt and Susan Rennie) and general editor of the Scots language imprint Itchy Coo, which produces books in Scots for children and young people.