Kailyard fiction tended towards stereotypes of Scottish rural life, showing small communities working together to overcome life’s difficulties. In part, Brown’s novel is a reply to the Kailyard myth. In this novel there is no united community, instead there is only cruel gossip, the failure of youth and a yawning absence of faith in anything. Lacking the perspective of any social or spiritual context with which to view the world, Brown’s fictional village, ‘Barbie’, which may have been based on Ochiltree, has retracted to social competition. It is a nest of jealousy and spite, often expressed in the ‘barbed’ comments of the ‘bodies’ or local gossips. They are, as Brown phrases it, the ‘big men in the small world’.
"The success of the book had enabled Mr. Brown, who was a native of Scotland, to retire from the daily grind of a literary and journalistic hack, and at the time of his death he was at work on a second novel, which was to be finished at the end of the year. Mr. Brown was to be married in the Autumn."
"Yet for seven years after he left Balliol to seek a writing career Brown made his living as a journalist in London, contributing to daily newspapers and popular weeklies, as well as to such relatively highbrow monthlies as Chapman's or the English Illustrated Magazine. Much that he is known to have written in these years (one source of income, for instance, was supplying paragraphs to the Illustrated London News) is now untraceable. He wrote under a bewildering variety of pseudonyms, developing at least seven distinct authorial identities, as he negotiated his self-image or self-images in the late Victorian New Grub Street."
Brown skilfully lulls the reader by beginning with the traditional kailyard format and then subverts it with vicious humour into a deliciously ruthless portrayal of small-town petty jealousies. It’s semi-autobiographical, probably based on Ochiltree in Ayrshire, where Brown grew up. He was illegitimate and rejected by his father and this perhaps explains the demonic father figure.
George Douglas Brown himself called it a ‘brutal and bloody work’, but although by the end there is a body count to rival Tarantino, it’s a fun book. There is a sly, dark humour in every aspect of the characterisation, the dialogue and analysis. Its insight into human nature and the tragedy of wasted potential is what makes it timeless.
Brown's landmark novel, <i>The House with the Green Shutters</i>, first published in 1901, has seldom been out of print and is a staple of the Scottish teaching canon at both high school and university level. On its publication, Brown was immediately recognized as the pivotal figure in a new turn in Scottish fiction, against the elegiac sentimentalism of the Kailyard – J. M. Barrie, S. R. Crockett, and Ian Maclaren
In 1899 he published an adventure novel, <i>Love and a Sword</i> under the name ‘Kennedy King’. In the autumn of 1900, he began writing his most famous book, <i>The House with the Green Shutters</i>, which began as a long story about a Scottish character called Gourlay in the small village of Barbie. This was then developed into a novel and was published in 1901 under the name George Douglas. When the book was published, it was well reviewed and received comparisons to works by R. L. Stevenson and John Galt.
He was educated at local schools in Ochiltree and Coylton, and attended Ayr Academy from 1883. The rector of Ayr Academy helped Brown gain a bursary to the University of Glasgow, where he graduated with a First in Classics and he received the Snell Exhibition Scholarship to study at Balliol College, Oxford.
By general account, he bore a close resemblance to his father in features, in build, and in temperament. But in the natural course of things, it was to his mother that he was indebted for the earliest formative influences of his life, and between mother and son there was founded a strong and enduring mutual affection and regard.
"The frowsy chambermaid of the 'Red Lion' had just finished washing the front door steps. She rose from her stooping posture and, being of slovenly habit, flung the water from her pail straight out, without moving from where she stood. The smooth round arch of the falling water glistened for a moment in mid-air."