From an essay on this book in The Fabulous Matter of Fact: The Poetics of Neil M. Gunn
In Highland River Gunn's interest is remembrance, in the relation of single events to much wider issues, and in the expression of philosophical ideas through the medium of constructed memory . . . Despite its seemingly introspective theme -- the recollection of a Highland childhood -- there is a more deliberate outward-looking sensibility. That Gunn did not conceive of the book as a novel suggests why it is so structurally ingenious. The novel form, per se, was inadequate for his desired mixture of semi-biography, fiction, and thought.
I was slow warming up to Gunn but am so glad I found him and this, a kind of Scottish Proust. The following is one of my favorite passages from any book ever.
From the shelter of her skirts one may brave God and all the unknown and terrifying things that go back beyond the hills to the ends of the earth and the beginnings of time. All the history of her people is writ on her face. The grey seas are stilled in her eyes; danger and fear are asleep in her brows; want's bony fingers grow warm at her breast; quietly against the quiet trees the struggle of the days lies folded in her hands. He can see her there in the moment of calm between struggle and struggle, in his generation and in the generation before, and far back beyond that till the ages are lost in the desert and she becomes the rock that throws its shadow in a weary land. But he does not know what she is thinking.