I’ve been eyeing up this book by Michelle Sloan for a while and bought myself a copy a few weeks ago. The painting on the front by Henry Raeburn is called The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, also known as The Skating Minister. Duddingston Loch is not that far from me in Holyrood Park although it’s been some years since it was frozen hard enough to skate on. You can see the actual painting in the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, so I took a photo outside the gallery. It was festival time so I thought the chances of getting a decent photo actually inside the building were quite low!
About the book
When you look at a painting, what do you really see?
When eighteenth-century poet Alison Cockburn accepts a light-hearted challenge from her friend Katherine Hume to live as a man, in order to infiltrate Edinburgh’s all-male skating club, little do they both realise how her new identity will shape their future.
And in the present, art historian Claire Sharp receives a mysterious request: to settle once and for all the true provenance of the iconic painting The Skating Minister.
The Edinburgh Skating Club is the tale of one woman’s mission to infiltrate a male-dominated society. Imaginative, romantic and ultimately moving, this time-shift adventure celebrates the women overlooked by history – and, above all, love, in all its unexpected forms.
The Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th century is a period of Edinburgh’s history which I particularly enjoy reading about. It’s a recognisable Edinburgh but still an evolving one. The Edinburgh Skating Club is populated with real people from the time such as David Hume. As always, we tend to know lots about men from history but not so much about the women. Katherine Hume, David’s sister, and her poet friend Alison Cockburn really did exist and are brought to life in a vivid and spirited way by the author. I really enjoyed reading about the friendship between these two. They clearly had a special relationship and had fun with their scheme to get Alison into the Edinburgh Skating Club.
In the present day strand of the book, art historian Dr Claire Sharp is tempted by an opportunity to investigate if Raeburn was actually the artist of The Skating Minister. The painting is described as the gallery’s poster boy which made me laugh! There have indeed been suggestions that the painting may not be by Raeburn as it’s very different from his usual style. I had a smile of recognition at mention of the Black and White corridor in the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland with its paintings of rather dour and staid ministers from bygone eras. I’m familiar with these paintings as I have stewarded at the General Assembly on quite a few occasions and have often thought how stern these ministers look.
I will looking at the painting of The Skating Minister much more closely the next time I go to the gallery. Is it a Raeburn? Could it have been Francis Pringle? Did he really exist? Has Michelle Sloan cracked the mystery of the real artist and their subject? Actually, I’m not sure I really want to know…
The Edinburgh Skating Club is warm and funny with more than a few surprises. It’s a very entertaining read with an unexpectedly emotional ending. I thought this book was great fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The Edinburgh Skating Club is published by Polygon Books
About the Author
Michelle Sloan was born and brought up in Edinburgh but now lives with her family in Broughty Ferry near Dundee. She trained as a primary school teacher and has also studied drama and arts journalism.