... a cabinet of curiosities that is both a love letter to the Scottish capital, and a knife to its throat ... Fagan...has a ferocious empathy for her ootlins [outsider characters] and their struggles in a society that rejects and oppresses them ... Occasionally, her characters feel slightly too modern in their thinking, too prescient of the world to come ... like all the characters, Burroughs is so richly drawn, so enjoyable to be with, that you can forgive the authorial slips. Certainly, it’s not ahistorical to believe that society’s outcasts had a keen understanding of how they’ve had to make their own ways of being, find their own ways to be seen ... the author...shifts between these voices with fevered joy, taking us through a host of characters who are all extravagant, wild and wounded at heart ... Filled with blistering social critique, Luckenbooth is an ambitious and ravishing novel that will haunt me long after. Stories can be like a house, somewhere you can inhabit for a while. The best kind leave behind a room inside you.
... deliciously weird ... Fagan once again examines the way people are affected by unhealthy spaces ... she writes about placement and displacement with an arresting mix of insight and passion ... Fagan tests each floor of No. 10 Luckenbooth as though she’s playing a literary version of Jenga, drawing out one block after another from this unstable structure ... a muffled scream—with a feral melody and a thundering bass line. Her prose has never been more cinematic. This story’s inexorable acceleration and its crafty use of suggestion and elision demonstrate the special effects that the best writers can brew up without a single line of Hollywood software—just paper, ink and ghosts.
From the start, Luckenbooth gives the feel of a legend or fairy story ... A multistorey horror story reveals itself obliquely in fragments across a number of years and viewpoints, weirdly paced, the action rushed and breathless, generalised, then freezing for a moment on an unexpected scene or event. It’s like the speech of an excited child; but you soon discover that the perspective is much, much more experienced than your own ... Fagan’s booth of stories—her Cornell box of frenzies, tragedies and delights—offers the present moment in the endless war between love and capital. It’s brilliant.
No novelist has registered the impact of this cruelty on the life of the individual more forcefully than Jenni Fagan ... An audacious statement and a terrific read, Luckenbooth asserts her right to participate in this most central of Scottish traditions while reinventing it for the twenty-first century ... Much of Edinburgh’s earlier history finds its way in—the conventional, the 'unofficial' and the downright folkloric. The result is a kaleidoscopic scene: an oppressive normality constantly jarred and jostled by acts of individual rebellion and of love ... The narrative that follows is at its core what R. L. Stevenson self-deprecatingly called a 'crawler', with all the unabashed sensationalism that implies. But also with its suggestion of a civic respectability dogged by a deep malevolence which is, at bottom, all its own. For Fagan, we are haunted not just by the dead but by those whose gender, sexuality, race or class has meant their marginalization, their exclusion from the life of society at large.
... a good shout of being 2021’s weirdest novel ... Luckenbooth takes place entirely at that pitch of incident and oddness, which gives it a peculiar sameness despite the shifting cast ... There are occasional threats of a sociology lecture under the fantastical trappings ... Thankfully, Luckenbooth is too fanciful for the didactic tone to stick, and reality is very much beside the point. Small anachronisms abound ... This could be sloppiness. But it might also be the point: Luckenbooth is a place of compacted time, where the past manifests as unquiet ghosts and the future bleeds into the present ... more an anthology than a single narrative. Some parts succeed better than others. A Tarantino-esque hot lady gangster is exhausting; a middle-aged female medium has appealing shades of Victoria Wood ... But...there’s a force in Luckenbooth’s bizarre assemblage that could come only from an author ambitious enough to risk making a mess.
... [a] deftly structured and white-hot furious novel ... It is a whirlwind...radical and profoundly fabulist. It is about the stories we are told and whether there is the possibility of there being new stories ... a very intriguing cross-section of 20th century, subterranean Scottish social history.
Luckenbooth, her masterly third novel, captures both the beauty and, more importantly, the brutality that cuts to the city’s very core ... A lesser writer would struggle to control this cacophony of voices but what marks out Luckenbooth is the fierce intelligence driving Fagan’s tale. Her story is both as loose and louche as a piece of Bob Fosse choreography and as rigorously organised as a Russian ballet ... This is a mad god’s dream of a book—it deserves to be shortlisted for every prize going this year.
It is a testament to Fagan’s skill at her craft to write so many very different characters from different eras so deftly. Luckenbooth is an ode to Edinburgh’s crumbling Old Town, but as ever with Fagan the supernatural underlies everything within its pages. It would be easy for a novel like this to feel disjointed, but the sense of place and the presence of something other throughout make the transitions of time and character effortless.
... audacious ... Surprisingly, it isn’t difficult to keep all these characters straight although the author’s idiom is sometimes a little jarring in the early-20th-century chapters ... I would’ve welcomed a bit more from the (comparatively) vanilla Agnes and Archie Campbell and their pet parrot, if only for comic relief ... there’s something for every fan of gothic folklore here. Readers of Carmen Maria Machado will love Jenni Fagan.
It can be a tricky thing to weave together disparate narratives into a coherent and satisfying whole but Fagan’s characters are bound together not only by their sordid or beautiful predelictions but by the fabric of the building they occupy...a world that resoundingly defies description. And if that weren’t enough, the novel is an incredible love letter to Edinburgh. The city’s layered topography underpins everything ... There’s a deeply defiant streak to Fagan’s writing. She calls out all that is wrong without ever clambering onto a soapbox ... For fear that all sounds a bit too worthy to make for entertaining reading, Fagan is also funny ... it’s a glorious, melancholy, thoughtful, compassionate story that celebrates everyone who doesn’t feel that they fit in. Sometimes, Fagan suggests, the people who are silenced are the ones from whom we most need to hear.
Fagan switches effortlessly between dreamy prose...and a more dynamic style ... If you are a squeamish reader (I am) the book can be hard to read at times. Fagan is unflinching in her depictions of derangement and death but Luckenbooth is compelling and often darkly funny ... her storytelling has an urgency and—to use an overused but apt word—authenticity ... the authenticity is in the feelings, in the way the characters’ stories are propelled forward and told with respect. The strong sense of person and place includes the wider city, a constant and untamed living presence[.]