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25 memorable Scottish novels for adults from the past 25 years

Last updated: 22 May 2024

A compilation of book covers of Scottish books from the last 25 years

25 years is a long and a short time in the life of the written word. Since Scottish Book Trust was founded in 1998, hundreds of Scottish novels have sought readers. Listed here are some that have stood the test of time and stayed with us in some way. 

It is one of our greatest privileges as a charity to support the emergence of some incredible writing talent in Scotland through our New Writers Awards and Next Chapter Award. Many of those alumni are featured on this list. A list which is designed to highlight a breadth of voices and genres, and to kickstart discussion rather than define it. 

Of course, all of these novels need readers to bring them alive and children who have access to books are far more likely to grow up to be readers than those without. That’s why we ask for your support in our Christmas appeal to give books to families accessing food banks this winter.

1998: Trumpet by Jackie Kay

Trumpet by Jackie Kay

Ali Smith described Jackie Kay’s Trumpet as 'a novel whose humanism, humour and vision demolish anyone's urge to think they've got the right to decide about, categorize or dismiss other human beings.’ The former Makar’s 1998 novel is as affecting, important and fresh today as it was at the close of the 20th century. Watch our documentary about Jackie Kay’s (this link will open in a new window)Trumpet.

Also in 1998: Garnethill by Denise Mina; Filth by Irvine Welsh; The Sopranos by Alan Warner

1999: A Place of Execution by Val McDermid

A Place of Execution by Val McDermid

Recently included in Time Magazine’s list of The 100 Best Mystery and Thriller Books of All Time, our patron’s challenge to the police procedural still endures as a classic over 20 years on from its publication – and Edgar Award nomination. It’s plot feature a detective haunted by the unsolved mystery of teenage girl’s disappearance, and a journalist who brings the case to light many years later curious at the detective’s decision to abruptly stop work on the case.

Also in 1999: One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night by Christopher Brookmyre; Our Fathers by Andrew O’Hagan

2000: Under the Skin by Michel Faber

Under the Skin by Michael Faber

An Animal Farm for veganism, Michel Faber’s eerie classic is a ‘once read, never forgotten’ experience. Notably, it’s Jonathan Glazer screen adaptation, starring Scarlett Johannsen, was recently voted for by critics as the best British film of the 21st century. It invites you to travel the A9 with Isserley as she seeks out male, well-built and single hitchhikers. For what? You’ll find out.

Also in 2000: But N Ben A-Go-Go by Matthew Fitt; Boiling a Frog by Christopher Brookmyre

2001: Hallam Foe by Peter Jinks

Peter Jinks’s debut novel inspired an Edinburgh-set film of the same name starring Jamie Bell. In it, Hallam’s mum’s suicide has pushed the youngster into a life of voyeurism on his father’s estate. An unfortunate chainsaw accident sees Foe move to Edinburgh where his voyeurism becomes ever more dangerous. 

Also in 2001: Hotel World by Ali Smith; Boyracers by Alan Bissett

2002: The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh

The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh

This gothic blend of tartan noir and erotica earned Louise Welsh plaudits from across the UK and shook up the Scotland’s early 20th century Scottish literary landscape by bringing an LGBTQ+ angle to the then macho genre of crime. Watch our documentary about the novel, its origins and its impact.(this link will open in a new window)

Also in 2002:  The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber; Dead Air by Iain Banks; Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin; Porno by Irvine Welsh; Any Human Heart by William Boyd

2003: Buddha Da by Anne Donovan

In Anne Donovan’s gently affecting debut, a working-class Glaswegian male discovers Buddhism and alienates his immediately family by seeking a more meaningful life. This meaningful Scots treat earned the author a shortlisting in the Orange Prize and Whitbread First Novel Award. 

Also in 2003: The Distant Echo by Val McDermid; Joseph Knight by James Robertson; Ath – Aithne by Martainn Mac an t-Saoir

2004: Fleshmarket Close by Ian Rankin

No overview of the past 25 years in Scottish novels would be complete without a Rebus thriller. In the famous Edinburgh inspector’s fifteenth outing, an illegal immigrant is found murdered in an Edinburgh scheme. Facing unwanted retirement, Rebus must visit an asylum seekers’ detention centre and deal with Scotland’s capital’s criminal underworld while, maybe, falling in love. 

Also in 2004: Psychoraag by Suhayl Saadi; Newton's Wake by Ken MacLeod; 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith

2005: Minaret by Leila Aboulela

Sudanese author Leila Aboulela grew up in Khartoum and now lives in Aberdeen. Minaret garnered huge praise upon its release (and an Orange Prize longlisting). It tells the tale of Najwa, a young woman who flees the Second Sudanese Civil War leaving behind a life of comfort and affluence to become a cleaner in London. 

Also in 2005: The Accidental by Ali Smith; Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride; Vellum by Hal Duncan; Amande's Bed by John Aberdein; The People’s Act of Love by James Meek

2006: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell

The 21st century so far has been peppered by outstanding books by Maggie O’Farrell, not least this slim novel that unpacks a full and tragic life. In 1930s Edinburgh, the Lennox family is having trouble with the outspoken Esme and something has to be done. 

Also in 2006: The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson; Be Near Me by Andrew O'Hagan; The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

2007: Day by A. L. Kennedy

A. L. Kennedy has been described as both one of the country’s finest and yet most humane writers. Day won the novel and overall Costa Book of the Year Award in 2007 and was the Saltire Society’s Book of the Year. It tells the tale of a man who served a Lancaster bomber tail gunner during WW2, reliving his experiences as an extra in a film about prisoners of war. 

Also in 2007: Exit Music by Ian Rankin; Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith; The Reavers by George Macdonald Fraser

2008: Kieron Smith, Boy by James Kelman

The 2008 Saltire Society Book of the Year is told in the words of Boy, an inarticulate lad from Glasgow whose language shifts as he grows up. Kelman’s novels have often divided critics and judges with one Booker prize judge threatening to resign should How Late It Was, How Late win. This modern Scots classic may divide your book group but it is an experience not to be missed. 

Also in 2008: Glister by John Burnside; Kill your Friends by John Niven; Matter by Iain M. Banks; When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

2009: Choke Chain by Jason Donald

Jason Donald was born in Dundee and raised in South Africa. His debut Choke Chain tells the tale of two boys navigating the wreckage of a broken household in a poor white neighbourhood in 1980s South Africa.

Also in 2009: The Tin Kin by Eleanor Thom; Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd; Palimpsest by Charlie Stross; The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell

2010: The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

Born in Bellshill, Aminatta Forna is a Scottish and Sierra Leonean writer. This passionate novel of memory, identity and healing is set during the aftermath of the Sierra Leone civil war. It earned the author the best book award at the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and a shortlisting in the Women’s Prize for Fiction. 

Also in 2010: And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson; The Existential Detective by Alice Thomson

2011: The Echo Chamber by Luke Williams

In this Saltire Society First Book of the Year award winner, Evie Steppman is born into the dying days of the British Empire in Nigeria. It is a loud world as Evie can hear things no-one else can and sets about storing her sonic experiences in a vast internal archive.

Also in 2011: There but for the by Ali Smith; Smokeheads by Doug Johnstone

2012: The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

The Panopticon was one of the breakthrough books of 2012, earning its author a shortlisting in the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction and the Desmond Elliott Prize. The year after its release, Jenni Fagan was also named as one of Granta Magazine’s Best of Young British Novelists. In this, her debut novel, we encounter the unmistakable voice of Anais Hendricks, a funny and fierce child, who has been let down by almost every adult she has ever met. 

Also in 2012: Tales from the Mall by Ewan Morrison; The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks; Skagboys by Irvine Welsh

2013: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

It’s not a spoiler to say that Ursula Tod dies in Kate Atkinson’s 2013 Costa Book Awards winner. In fact, she must die and live many lives during the span of the 20th century in search of an existence she loves. This popular book also secured shortlistings in the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Waterstones Book of the Year and the Walter Scott Prize – not to mention a BBC adaptation. 

Also in 2013: Pantomime by Laura Lam; The Professor of Truth by James Robertson; Night Boat by Alan Spence; Burnt Island by Alice Thomson

2014: How to be Both by Ali Smith

Ali Smith is one of Scotland’s most decorated and highly-rated writers. This 2014 novel won the Goldsmiths Prize, the novel award at the Costa Book Awards and the Women’s Prize for Fiction – as well as a shortlisting for the Booker Prize. How to be Both tells two tales of love and injustice in a fast-moving, genre-bending form.

Also in 2014: Their Lips Talk of Mischief by Alan Warner; Ghost Moon by Ron Butlin; The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

2015: His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

The year is 1869 and a triple murder leads to the arrest of Roderick Macrae. His memoir confirms the young man’s guilt but what led him to carry out this brutal act? Former New Writers Awardee Graeme Macrae Burnet’s literary thriller, set in the unforgiving landscape of Applecross, came from nowhere to land a place on the Booker Prize shortlist. Watch our documentary about the novels origins.(this link will open in a new window)

Also in 2015: The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester; A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson; Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin; Fishnet by Kirstin Innes

2016: The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

The first book in the bestselling author’s Scottish bookshop series sees Nina Redmond, a librarian with a gift for finding the perfect books for readers, trying to write her very own happy ending. The Bookshop on the Corner is like a Valentine’s gift for booklovers, and anyone who loves a bit of romance.

Also in 2016: Autumn by Ali Smith; A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee; Out of Bounds by Val McDermid; Serious Sweet by A L Kennedy; Blade Artist by Irvine Welsh

2017: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant by Gail Honeyman

The panel for our Next Chapter Award in 2016 couldn’t get enough of Eleanor Oliphant’s unique voice. A year or so later, a world of readers agreed. Gail Honeyman’s bestselling, Glasgow-set novel scooped the Costa First Book Award and the film rights were quickly snapped up by Reese Witherspoon’s production company. 

Also in 2017: This Is Memorial Device by David Keenan; The Long Drop by Denise Mina; Goblin by Ever Dundas; Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty; The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson Ellis

2018: The Long Take by Robin Robertson

Hailing from Scotland’s north-east coast, acclaimed poet Robin Robertson scooped the Goldsmiths Prize, Walter Scott Prize and secured a place on the Booker Prize shortlist with this noirish novel written in narrative poetry form. It follows a D-Day veteran on a peripatetic touch of the US in search of freedom, anonymity and repair in the heyday of film noir.

Also in 2018: All the Hidden Truths by Claire Askew; The Valley at the Centre of the World by Malachy Tallack; Things Bright and Beautiful by Anbara Salam; The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry; The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick

2019: Conviction by Denise Mina

Anna McDonald turns to a true-crime podcast to drown out the noise of her husband’s shocking announcement one morning. Only, Anna knows one of the victims in the podcast’s tale of sunken yachts, a murdered family and international conspiracy. Denise Mina’s 2019 novel was a New York Times bestseller and a popular pick for Reese Witherspoon’s book club.

Also in 2019: Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann; Nina X by Ewan Morrison; You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr; Spring by Ali Smith; Big Sky by Kate Atkinson

2020: Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

2020 was a vintage year for Scottish novels as Shuggie Bain brought the Booker Prize north of the border for only the second time in its 54-year existence. Set during the Thatcher years in Glasgow, Stuart’s deeply moving book tells the story of one boy’s doomed attempt to save his ma from alcoholism.

Also in 2020: Hamnett by Maggie O'Farrell; Mayflies by Andrew O'Hagan; Pine by Francine Toon; Scabby Queen by Kirstin Innes

2021: Deep Wheel Orcadia by Harry Josephine Giles

Deep Wheel Orcadia was the first full-length book in the Orkney language in over fifty years. This science-fiction verse novel is set on a space station that orbits around a distant gas giant - a place described by writer Harry Josephine Giles as "very like Orkney, and also very much not". We supported this novel through the Scots Language Publication Grant and couldn’t have been prouder when it scooped the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

Also in 2021: The Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu; Duck Feet by Ely Percy; The Fair Botanists by Sara Sheridan; Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan; Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet; The Young Team by Graeme Armstrong

2022: The Pharmacist by Rachelle Atalla

Before turning her hand to writing, former New Writers Awardee Rachelle Atalla was a pharmacist. The Pharmacist was her highly-praised debut novel. A claustrophobic speculative thriller, it is set in a bunker designed to keep people safe and yet only very few people make it out of the place. Its pharmacist, Wolfe, is one of the lucky few to have employment but the actions of her increasingly erratic and paranoid boss are a cause for concern.

Also in 2022: Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart; The Romantic by William Boyd; The Voids by Ryan O'Connor; May God Forgive by Alan Parks

2023: In Ascension by Martin MacInnes

Former New Writers Awardee Martin MacInnes was longlisted for The Booker Prize 2023 for this, his third novel. When a trench is discovered in the Atlantic, marine biologist Leigh hopes to discover earth’s earliest life forms. Instead her discoveries call everything we know about our own beginnings into question. 

Also in 2023: For they great pain have mercy on my little pain by Victoria MacKenzie; Now She is Witch by Kirsty Logan; Cast a Cold Eye by Robbie Morrison; Quinn by Em Strang; Past Lying by Val McDermid.