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The Cone Gatherers

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  1,312 ratings  ·  110 reviews
Set on an estate in Scotland, it is about a gamekeeper's descent into madness and two cone gatherers in the forest. It is about class issues, unexplained goodness and badness. ...more
Paperback, Canongate Classics
Published August 5th 2004 by Canongate Books (first published 1980)
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Average rating 3.54  · 
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Lars Williams
Jan 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
It’s easy to see why The Cone Gatherers is used as a set text for Higher English classes (in Scotland at least - I don’t know if this is the case elsewhere) - it’s a short but dense novel, heavy with symbolism, at times almost threatening to collapse under the weight of its symbolic and thematic density. It’s by no means a difficult read, just very intense….and pretty bleak, it must be said.

I’m not sure why, but reading this book felt a lot like reading a play. I don’t know if this was because s
Mar 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Seeds of evil...

Brothers Neil and Calum work as foresters in Ardmore in the Scottish highlands. Calum is a simple-minded but happy soul, his twisted, hunched back making him clumsy on the ground, but once he is climbing in his beloved trees he is agile and sure-footed. Neil, the older brother, has devoted his life to looking after Calum, resenting every slight and insult that's been directed at him far more than Calum himself. Now they have been sent to the estate of Lady Runcie-Campbell to gath
Feb 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The cone-gatherers of the title are two labourers on a Scottish estate during the Second World War, who spend their days gathering pine-cones from the treetops so that the forest can be replanted after being cut down for lumber to help the war effort. A job so unexpected and remote from modern-day life that it sometimes felt like reading about men in a sci-fi novel performing some incomprehensible and repetitive task on an alien world.

It's very efficiently written, with not a word or comma waste
Rebecca Griffiths
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Poignant and beautifully written. This is a tender and often heartbreaking story about love, loss and the vileness of human prejudices. This book must be one of the best kept secrets, which is a shame, because trust me, it's a classic which deserves to be read. ...more
Nov 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is on the Scottish high school curriculum and I see from the reviews that pretty much every teenager who had to read and write essays on it hated it. I can see why; it is not exactly a fast-paced, page-turner but the underlying richness of the book more than makes up for it.

This is a battle between good and evil set within a stunningly beautiful Scottish landscape (Eden?) with its themes of disgust and fear of anyone who is different, no matter how innocent, and the appalling impact of
Sep 27, 2012 rated it did not like it
Unfortunately this was on our required reading list at school and I must admit that I hated it then and I still hate it now (9+ years later). The story is grim and dull with everything related to symbolism, thus making it difficult to enjoy. The characters are often irritating at times and I found the whole story line boring.

I wonder if I had read it on my own and wasn't aware of the symbolism if I would have enjoyed it more . . . some how I doubt it.
John Wade
Nov 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love a book of less than 250 pages (this has 220). It just feels right. Like a 90 min film or an album that will fit on one side of a C90. It seems to foster books that are just as powerful and memorable as any 700 page epic, through carefully chosen words and beautifully crafted sentences. I won't divulge the plot but this is a truly wonderful book. No wasted words. The arc of the plot is just right and the sense of time and place is incredible.

An added bonus. Quite near the end the phrase '
Aug 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
I didn't find this novel very exciting and at first I didn't think that I liked it at all. However, I found that I couldn't forget about it for weeks after i had read it. Jenkins' description of the setting is a little tedious if you aren't in the mood for it, but the way the characters are portrayed is exquisite and I found myself deeply invested in their lives towards the end of the novel. ...more
i had to read this for higher english because it is FULL of religious symbolism and that's what english teachers love. it's also dull with no likeable characters. this book is the worst and that's not just because i had to write essays about it. ...more
Jan 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book would be the perfect pick for a book club. The story isn't adventurous or even particularly exciting, but it's chock full of things to think about. It screams for discussion. When I finished the last sentence I just wished I knew someone else in this world who had read it so I could talk about it with them. Woah, what was that about? The main themes are fairly obviously hatred and innocence, but there's so much depth to it. The story is set on a large Scottish estate during WWII. On th ...more
Aug 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
This novel deals with the story of two brothers on a remote Scottish island during the Second World War. They gather cones for the war effort and the novel deals with among other things the perceptions others have of them, in particular the views of the local gamekeeper who is disgusted by one of the brothers who is a hunchback and has learning difficulties. Comparisons can be made to "Of Mice and Men", which does slightly overshadow the story, but the well-drawn characters in particular the cha ...more
May Ling
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction-amer-min
Despite being somewhat depressing, I liked this book. I'm not sure if it makes the classics, but the writer clearly has a unique voice. I like the way the character weaves and the way that classism, and sex are addressed in making characters that aren't flat. Any who, I would give this a read for sure. ...more
Apr 08, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had to read this for school when I was a lad. I didn't much enjoy the experience. Even at that age, despite having never read it, the book struck me as a poor man's Of Mice and Men. ...more
Oct 19, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uni, dnf
halfway through it, intend to finish it
Chloe Nash
Feb 10, 2021 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Barbara Elsborg
Feb 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
What can I say? Beautifully written, deeply allegorical and symbolic, heart rending and almost unremittingly bleak. But the dark theme is lifted by the sheer innocent joy of Calum's personality and I suppose in the redemption of the last few words. It's a literary book - so packed with meaning, with moral questions, with issues that make you think, that you'd imagine it might be hard to read, but it's not. On the surface - the story of two brothers, one a hunchback, the other crippled by arthrit ...more
Milly Mackenzie
May 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I studied this novel for higher English. The first time I read it, I found it dull but nooooooo I was being a fool this book is magic it takes words, it manipulates even the ugliest words, and it makes them loveable and appealing I was in a trance I was completely taken away by the whole concept OR SHOULD I SAY CONCEPTS because the book represents so much it has so many symbols and themes and what I truly love is unlike so many modern tales, we are not given these hidden messages on a plate with ...more
Dec 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was completely delighted with this book. Nature descriptions were lovely and evocative and provided a great interpretative backdrop to a story about a failing society. From the first moment, I loved Calum and Neil, and I detested Lady Rancid-Camel more with every sentence I read about her. Her smug self-righteousness was so irritating, and to think that this callous and arrogant woman considered herself a paragon of Christian virtue who stands out from the rest of her ilk, that really gives yo ...more
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had never heard of Robin Jenkins when I picked up this book at Glasgow Airport. I learned that he's considered one of Scotland's best writers and is often required reading for Scottish students.

This is a beautifully written tale about two humble cone gatherers working on a Scottish estate during WWII and Duror the evil gameskeeper, who is obsessed with doing them harm. It's about the class hierarchy and how some use their position to justify acts of inhumanity against those they consider bene
Can understand why this novel gets so much hate from teens but I couldn't put it down. Read it in one sitting when the electricity was off. Heavy symbolism, big themes, pretty bleak from start to finish. Definitely a text for Higher rather than N5 ...more
Sep 19, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Stupid school English book.
Jan 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Candidate for my favourite Scottish novel. It's really that good ...more
Alexandra Crane
Jul 17, 2019 rated it did not like it
0/10 would delete completely from existence
John Grinstead
Nov 07, 2020 rated it liked it
The are a number of themes, examples of symbolism and allegory that highlight this as an obvious book for academic study - it is a long standing text for the Scottish Highers - and which emphasises the skill of the writer, cramming in a good story with some well-developed characters in less than 250 pages.

The gamekeeper, Duror, dominates proceedings and personifies evil, caught in a downward spiral of frustration and contempt, particularly for Calum - the Quasimodo-like character who loves natur
(3.5/5) A very good novel but I was always very much aware that it was a “novel“. I was very much unsurprised to see that there was a play adaptation and that it appears on a school curriculum. Perhaps my fault with the novel is that I saw the characters as embodiments of the themes themselves rather than as individuals. Pride, social hierarchy, corruption, conflict, despair, rank, wealth, independence, friendship loyalty etc. All the elements that make the setting in which this book is staged w ...more
May 24, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A difficult book to get into, full of rich detail and religious iconography. It is visually vivid and this is also it's downfall. Without spoiling the novel, it is a battle between good and evil. Good, being the titular come gatherers Neil and Calum, evil being the gamekeeper Duror.

My issue is that Duror is so real, so rich, so overpoweringly evil that he overwhelms every other character in the book. To have such a brilliantly evil character, you must have as equally brilliant good characters.
Oct 24, 2017 rated it did not like it
I strongly regret that I was forced to write about this piece of dross for my English Higher, especially while the class across the hall got to do The Merchant of Venice.

The Cone Gatherers is a supremely awful, clumsily written attempt at moralising with a more antiquated view of disability than most of Dickens. You spend your short academic life thinking the fetishisation of innocence is confined to the 19th century and then you read this book. You think your own adolescent metaphors are daft a
Neil Fulwood
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Narratively simple - a fable, almost - but profound and sophisticated in its allegory, symbolism and psychological interrogation of its characters. ‘The Cone-Gatherers’ is about class structures (and strictures), guilt, innocence, madness and redemption. Jenkins’s prose balances the austere and the poetic. The major set-pieces unfold with a cinematic immediacy.

Btw, if you’re reading an edition prefaced by Iain Crichton Smith’s introduction, skip it: he blithely gives away the ending.
Heidi T-Howe
Oct 14, 2019 rated it did not like it
If I could rate this book negative stars, I would. This remains as one of the WORST books I have ever read, and I've read 50 shades of grey. At least I could laugh at the writing of that book, the cone gatherers though? Boring. Dull. Anticlimactic with no build up at all. Watching paint dry would've been more interesting than studying this book.
"Celebrated as one of Robin Jenkins' best books" I that's the "best", I wonder how bad the rest of his books are
John Robertson
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written, economic, powerful with insights that are very applicable to today's world, it's sad but also gives a sense of hope through redemption and forgiveness. It is not a Scottish version of Mice and Men as is often quoted, to say that misses the crucial message I think of the book. Highly recommended. ...more
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Author of a number of landmark novels including The Cone Gatherers, The Changeling, Happy for the Child, The Thistle and the Grail and Guests of War, Jenkins is recognised as one of Scotland's greatest writers. The themes of good and evil, of innocence lost, of fraudulence, cruelty and redemption shine through his work. His novels, shot through with ambiguity, are rarely about what they seem. He p ...more

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