In honor of his Scotland-set debut novel, Andrew Ladd is getting all Scottish on us, with a pop culture top ten of all things Edinburgh — his beloved, and often celebrated, home town (whether he sounds like he’s from there, or not).

“What Ends is an exquisitely conjured eulogy for a vanishing way of life. Andrew Ladd’s wise and vital voice is descended from Flaubert by way of William Trevor. His sentences mesmerize, beckon as if from another time. This is no debut but a masterwork, an absorbing micro-saga whose completion we mourn. What Ends reminds us of all a novel can be.” — Claire Vaye Watkins, author of BATTLEBORN

Though my novel is set in the Hebrides, I couldn’t resist giving my hometown some brief cameos. (In fact, the few Edinburgh scenes that made it into the novel are drastically pared down from what I first envisioned: whole chapters where the characters wander around awestruck at the place.) And I’m in good company, because Edinburgh has had a similar draw for countless other authors and storytellers. So here are my top ten books, stories, films—whatever—set partly or entirely in the world’s most charming town.

Click the headings for trailers, info, etc.

1. The Illusionist (film), dir. Sylvain Chomet

Not to be confused with the earlier Edward Norton/Paul Giamatti period Hollywood magician thriller of the same name, Chomet’s animated feature is a stunning visual tribute to Edinburgh—beautifully illustrating not only the city’s wonky topology and dramatic skyline, but the varied human lives that play out against that setting.

2. “Murrayfield (you’re having a laugh)” (short story), by Irvine Welsh

In 2005, three Edinburgh authors of whom you may have heard—Welsh, Alexander McCall Smith, and Ian Rankin (more on him later)—collaborated on a slim volume of short stories that was sold in support of the One City Trust, an Edinburgh charity. I don’t mean to impugn Rankin and McCall Smith when I say I’ve completely forgotten both their contributions, but it’s really only Welsh’s story that still sticks with me. Even now, years later, I can still picture the escaped tiger at its core, prowling around a genteel old woman’s garden in the city’s western suburbs.

3. The Corrections (novel), by Jonathan Franzen

Yeah, I know, I know, The Corrections is a Great American Novel, and Franzen is writing mostly about the Midwest, and it’s weird to include him here. But Chip’s extremely brief foray to Edinburgh in The Corrections, which leaves him, like me, with an aching nostalgia sparked by the words “Firth of Forth,” was an eye-opener—because in a few deft details Franzen really seemed to give a flavour of the city. And for that (among many other reasons) I’ll always admire this book.

4. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (novel), by Muriel Spark

I’ve never actually read this book. But it seemed like I couldn’t write a list of Edinburgh stories without including it.

5. Shallow Grave (film), dir. Danny Boyle

Boyle’s gruesome directorial debut was shot largely in Glasgow, but it’s set in Edinburgh—and the interior shots of the characters’ home capture the cold hugeness of the New Town’s Georgian flats just as perfectly as the establishing exterior shots capture its quiet, grey streets. I still think of the film when I walk through the New Town today.

6. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (novel), by James Hogg

Often cited as a precursor to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this kooky piece of nineteenth-century metafiction tells the story of the eponymous justified sinner, twice: once through his own written account of duels and murders in Edinburgh, and once by an editor who supposedly discovers and publishes that account. The central conceit, though—and the one allegedly borrowed by Stevenson—is that the reader is left unsure whether the “devil” in the story is a real, separate person, or just a facet of the narrator himself.

7. The Rebus mysteries (crime series), by Ian Rankin

One of the things I love most about Edinburgh is the malleability of its character; the same street can be an idyllic historical tableau one second, and a grim modern-day drug den the next. Rankin’s skill has always been to play on that variation, finding both dark in the brightest corners and humanity in the seediest characters—and his leading man, Inspector John Rebus, has that same, rich variation too.

8. One Day (novel by David Nicholls / film dir. Lone Scherfig)

Despite a fairly close adaptation, the film version of One Day was received far more negatively than the bestselling novel on which it was based. Yet it’s the film version that really benefits from Edinburgh’s grand scenery, because I don’t think any prose can adequately convey the sweeping views from Arthur’s Seat that cap off this very touching, very plausible story.

9. Driving Lessons (film), dir. Jeremy Brock

I bring this film up only because it’s a textbook example of what I like to call Edinburgh Filming Syndrome: no matter where a film takes place in Edinburgh, or what the plot involves, there will almost always be a shot of the quaint, winding, and extremely photogenic Victoria Street—usually spliced in between shots from other locations on completely the opposite side of town. Driving Lessons, no matter its critical merit—I found it entertaining, FWIW—is a textbook example.

10. Maisie Goes To School (book), by Aileen Paterson  

This is one of the first books I remember reading and, at least in that edition I had twenty-five years ago, yep, it was my school on the cover, which made it extra-special. Maisie had lots of other adventures too, many of them also in Edinburgh, and they’re still some of the most lovely children’s books I’ve come across. So if you know someone who’s learning to read, find a Maisie book for them and get them started on this list early.


Purchase WHAT ENDS from:

Powell’s | IndieBound |

Read Andrew’s Big Truths essay:



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TOP 10:
a top 10 list of all things EDINBURGH