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Shena Mackay Biography

(1944– ), Dust Falls on Eugene Shlumberger, Toddler on the Run, Music Upstairs, Old Crow

Scottish writer, born in Edinburgh, educated at Tonbridge Girls' Grammar School and Kidbrooke Comprehensive School. She left school at 16, and at 17 wrote her first short novel, Dust Falls on Eugene Shlumberger, which, along with Toddler on the Run, was published in 1964. Music Upstairs (1965) is an evocative account of life in the Earl's Court Road in the early 1960s. The novels Old Crow (1967) and An Advent Calendar (1971) established her reputation as a witty and innovative writer with a particular gift for simile and telling metaphor. Babies in Rhinestones (1983), a collection of stories, broke a long and significant silence, demonstrating Mackay's mastery of the short form. Other volumes of stories (Dreams of Women's Handbags, 1987, and The Laughing Academy, 1993) display the flamboyant imagery and surreal humour that characterize her best work; her Collected Stories were published in 1994. Mackay's novels of the 1980s, A Bowl of Cherries (1984) and Redhill Roccoco (1987), are set in the suburban background she has made her own; they deal, like many of her stories, with jealousy and morbid obsession. The theme of women fighting their way out of poverty and bad marriages to bond with each other is significant. Mackay's reputation reached its peak with the massive and ambitious Dunedin (1992), which follows the fortunes of the Mackenzie family in its progress from Scotland at the turn of the century to the urban hell of contemporary London. Bizarre comedy combines with lavish lyricism, political parable, and myth; the notion of redemption in love counterpoints what is essentially a bleak, tragic, and cautionary vision of fin-de-siècle London. Contemporaries drew parallels with Firbank's decadent symbolism and Dickens's carnivalesque canvasses; but the overall uniqueness of Mackay's narrative technique has placed her among Britain's finest contemporary writers of fiction.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Earl Lovelace Biography to Madmen and Specialists