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The Incomers

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Mission-raised Ellie Amadi expects to live a dream life when she and her son Nat leave home in West Africa to join her white, estate factor, husband James in the Fife mining village of Hollyburn. In 1966 Fife, mixed marriages are unusual, never mind interracial ones, and Ellie soon witnesses the villagers' ignorance of outsiders. Ellie struggles to adapt to her new life and rebels against her husband's pressure on her to conform. When she is accused of neglecting her baby, and subjected to an allegation of witchcraft, Ellie questions her ability to go on living among white faces. The story draws on deep parallels between the cultures of West Africa and Scotland. Each chapter ends with a vernacular 'party line' telephone conversation between two village women, tracking the initial animosity towards Ellie and gradually, a grudging acceptance of her. When Nat is abducted by the school bully and nearly drowns, Ellie is stunned by the hostility she receives from an African male doctor. It is only then she realises that prejudice of incomers exists everywhere, and acceptance grows if nurtured by familiarity. This novel cleverly explores historical racial prejudice in Scotland and may raise some difficult cultural issues, perhaps still applicable 45 years later.

288 pages, Paperback

First published March 29, 2012

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About the author

Moira McPartlin

11 books39 followers
Moira McPartlin made a big impact with The Incomers, her debut novel set in Fife. It was shortlisted for the Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award and was a critical success.
Her speculative fiction Sun Song Trilogy novels, Ways of the Doomed, Wants of the Silent and Star of Hope set in 2089, reflect many issues we are living with today.
In September 2019 her short play A Handful Of Glaur was included as part of the UNESCO Cities of Literature Short Play Festival in New Zealand and in 2020 she will take up a writing fellowship at Hawthornden Castle. She is also a prolific writer of short stories and poetry and has been published in a variety of literary magazines.
Her new novel Before Now: Memoir of a Toerag was published in May 2021.
She lives in Stirling.

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Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews
Profile Image for Zanna.
676 reviews967 followers
June 12, 2016
4.5 stars

I bought this book partly because I was so attracted to the beautiful manga style cover art centred on a gorgeously drawn black woman's face. While her necklace looks African to me, her rakish curls of hair, sceptical eyebrow and thick gold earring give her a cartoon romantically piratical air! Meanwhile, two white women on the phone look as if they're either dealing with a crisis or plotting some intrigue, but as it turns out, the protagonist, Ellie, isn't a swashbuckling renegade and the other women are just gossiping. Their chatter, often cruel, is McPartlin's vehicle for working through the harshness and bigotry of a rural mid-'60s Scottish setting. While the 'pairty line' vents toxic racism and ignorance, its status as a space for friends to speak openly enables some healing and changes of mind to take place. Religious fissures are bridged by family relationships, and the speakers feel comfortable enough to contradict each other and repent of previous convictions.

The perceptual centre of the novel is Ellie, recently arrived from an unnamed West African country to live with her husband, the factor of a wealthy landowning family estate, and their baby son, Nat. Racism defines all of her interactions in the new country, so the degree to which other characters are able to relate to her and treat her with respect and friendliness measures their moral worth; Ellie's presence is an ethical barometer.

Her experience is central in other ways; for me the deepest theme here is pleasure, and Ellie's genius for it is evident in her enjoyment of and love for her son, her interest in food, and especially her quickly formed and increasingly restorative relationship with the beautiful land, lovingly evoked by McPartlin with a warm intimacy that I found distinctive and resonant. It reminded me of Toni Morrison's work: with hints of nightmarish history at the roots. The root speaks in the shoot, and newly replanted Ellie touches the medicine women's maligned graves knowing her knowledge of herb lore and the local hostility towards her bequeaths here a tender kinship. She mistakenly calls them nuns, and this speaks to her experience in a missionary school and half-accepted fore-mothers. Female heritage has traction here, even if dubious and sad. The narrative vaunts solidarities between women without smoothing or simplifying rough edges and conflicts. In contrast to Ellie, the native residents seem... dour! From their grim religious outlooks to their drab clothes and bland food, they seem to refuse the pleasures of life.

The most careful, emotionally subtle writing goes into the relationship between Ellie and her husband James, who expects her to lose her identity in assimilation and expresses disappointment that she resists this, is too cowardly to defend her from the overt and thinly veiled racial hostility she experiences, fails to believe her, medicalises her feelings of loneliness and anger, complains about her cooking and breastfeeding and foraging and her gorgeous clothes, and gives his mother a pass on her racism, defending her from confronting her own bigotry and pushing the burden onto Ellie, who sees through his weak and racist behaviour and resists, gathering allies where she can. The only thing that can be said for him is that he loves pleasure, is affectionate and not physically violent. I loathed him and my heart ached for Ellie. My sympathy was unwaveringly with her. I experienced a world of contrasts through her eyes, with the author affirming her clear judgements and emotions.

Childhood is a theme treated with insight and imagination. I see the book as critical of the Scottish lifestyle of the period which has negative effects on health, and also of extractivism since mining corrodes lives both in Hollyburn and in Ellie's native home. Religious bigotry marks the children's lives as does their parents' ill health. Only Ellie's baby, breastfed and kept close to her in the sweet world of their mutual pleasure, is healthy in mind and body, but Ellie cannot be Africa in herself, she cannot entirely insulate her son from his new environment. In that sense, while there are a lot of optimistic trajectories here, there are no cosy resolutions. Rather than presenting a feelgood outcome that redeems whiteness, McPartlin equips Ellie with an impressive capacity to fight and resist racism without denying her vulnerability and need for support, calling on us all to decolonise ideas of community...
Profile Image for Sarah Broadley.
20 reviews7 followers
February 10, 2015
When I pick up a book, I decide to buy it on the back of the promise created by the blurb, the design of the front cover and the first line of text. The Incomers did not disappoint and had me hooked from the first sentence. Ellie and James are married, both hailing from completely different walks of life, who, against all odds eventually settle in rural Scotland from Africa, along with their young son, Nat. The ignorance of the unwelcoming villagers would be enough to send anyone back to their homeland but I found myself willing Ellie forward in her journey to be accepted by the Fifers. The mutterings and persistent mocking from the brazen village towards her is heart wrenching and appalling in equal doses. Being brought up with a party line on our house phone, I was intrigued how this would be portrayed in 60's Fife. I had nothing to worry about, the dialect is tactfully spread out over short pages within the story, creating a view of life of some of the locals that is paramount to understanding the lay of the land at that time. An excellent read that I cannot recommend highly enough.
Profile Image for Nikki Magennis.
Author 20 books29 followers
April 3, 2012
I wanted to read this from the first I heard of it. I grew up as an Incomer, so the themes sounded familiar, dangerous and fascinating.
The central character, Ellie, is an instant hit, as is her baby son. Stranded in damp, green Scotland from the heat of the Gambia, I felt protective and fearful for them all the way through the book. Great characterisation, including the wonderful 'The Pairty Line' - unnamed voices gossiping at the end of each chapter. Lots of interwoven layers to this book; religion, gender, friendship - even botany. They're all managed with a nice light touch.

I found myself a bit uncertain about Ellie's husband. He was an odd character, hard to pin down. But while the plot was beautifully turned, it didn't provide any easy answers. Kept me up late.

Profile Image for Sue.
72 reviews
April 24, 2013
I really liked this book. Ellie is a lovely character, and as a reader, I was willing her on. A lot of the small towns, here in Fife, still have a lot of prejudices, particular the older communities. This book captured how hurtful
prejudice can be, but also how little thought is put into it by others in the majority. I definitely recommend this book
84 reviews
September 10, 2017
Get your hands on this book, clear everything else from your to be read pile and read it now.

The transition of a woman from a village in West Africa to a mining village in Scotland is never going to be an easy one, but this story is written with such insight, and, well, just HEART that it is impossible to put down, a joy (and heart-wrenching) read, and one that I know will stay with me for a long time to come.

I think, given what's going on in the world at the moment too, that this should be read by every secondary school child in the UK, as it really is thought provoking, and a beautiful, thoughtful insight into how it really feels to be the Incomer.

This book has found a firm place in my heart, and I know it will be one of the few that I re-read every year.

Clear your diary and read this book!
Profile Image for Dawn.
93 reviews
July 3, 2014
I really enjoyed this book. It is particularly funny if you're Scottish (which I am so I can understand the dialect)If you're not it's going to lose a bit of lustre.
It is the story of Ellie, a black South African woman who has married a man from Fife in northern Scotland and come to life in a small, quaint rather backwards town just after the war era has ended. It is about the prejudice that she receives but also the kindness shown to her by a few.
It's original and funny and uplifting.
Profile Image for Claire Wingfield.
Author 6 books33 followers
October 25, 2016
I greatly enjoyed this novel by Scottish author Moira McPartlin. I particularly liked the tender portrayal of the mother’s relationship with her baby son Nat. Rarely do I find infants and babies portrayed convincingly in novels, yet this relationship felt credible and full of warmth. I devoured the novel over 3 days and was in awe of the author’s research. I’m glad I came across this author and ‘The Incomers’ is definitely a book that will stay with me.
Profile Image for Sharondblk.
678 reviews8 followers
October 13, 2019
This started so well. The premise is that Ellie, an African woman, met a Scottish man in her unnamed African country, married him and moved to a village in Scotland. When she gets there the locals are far from welcoming.

Good premise. I raced though the first half. And then the second half was just boring. None of the events ever leads to anything else. And repeatedly pointing out that small town Scotland in the 1960s was quite insular and racist is hardly surprising.

The final quarter races towards parody, with an unexpected meeting with an African doctor (spoiler: he's racist and sexist) a run in with the priest's house-keeper (repeatedly and oddly referred to as a "man woman" by our protagonist) and a rant about how terrible Africa is.

The books main issue is that is is boring, and focuses on minor details, rather than the relationships between the characters. How such a rich topic could be written in such a boring way is a mystery, although I do now know more about nettle tea than I did before, so that's something, right?
Profile Image for Iona Laycock.
8 reviews1 follower
March 13, 2022
I really enjoyed this novel. Picked it up on a whim in Waterstones and read it in one day. Being Scottish myself I really enjoyed the use of “Scottish” language in the book. I could imagine exactly how the villager were talking about Ellie, and this is exactly what still sadly happens even now in certain parts of Scotland (and the UK) - well worth a read. I would liked to have found out a little more about James and his mother as that particular part of the storyline could have had some more meat about it. A decent read.
Author 8 books10 followers
June 7, 2017
Just read this exceptional book. Sensitive, insightful, poignant. An authentic vision of a mining village in Scotland in the sixties where people dared not be different and the consequences for those who did. I savoured every page.
18 reviews
October 17, 2019

Loved this in awe of the authors ability to understand and express how people from different backgrounds cultures and experiences may think and feel. I suppose that is what good writing is about! Wish I had the same insight and perceotion
Profile Image for Littlelou.
22 reviews2 followers
January 3, 2016
It was my book group title so not necessarily a book I would have chosen for myself. I did however enjoy it and as a resident of Fife myself it was sobering to realise this would most certainly have reflected some peoples attitudes towards a black face in the 1960's. Sadly, it is not always so different 50 yrs later.
Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews

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