October 2023
Isabel Bogdan: The Peacock

Book 'The Peacock' lying on an embroidered white cushion
© V&Q Books

A treat for fans of satirical novelists like Jonathan Coe, The Peacock by Isabel Bogdan is a comedy of errors that skewers workplace relationships, perfectly blending German humour and a Scottish setting.

At the end of this month, the Goethe-Institut Glasgow marks its fiftieth anniversary – and, fortunately, Literary Tastings has just the thing for celebrating the cultural links between Germany and Scotland. The Peacock by Isabel Bogdan, translated by Annie Rutherford, is a smart, deliciously funny novel that satirises workplace relationships, makes light of Scottish stereotypes, and pits humans and animals against the weather in a brilliant comedy of errors.

A pacey read that will appeal particularly to fans of comic novelists like Jonathan Coe, The Peacock is set in a run-down stately home in the Highlands of Scotland. Owned by Laird and Lady McIntosh, the castle is looked after by housekeeper Aileen and groundsman Ryszard, and is home to several animals, including dogs, a deviant goose and a deranged peacock. When a party of investment bankers from London comes to stay in one of the holiday cottages on the estate for a team-building trip, a series of unfortunate accidents and a freak snowstorm ensure that both residents and visitors get more than they bargained for.

Much as satirist Coe has done in Middle England and The Rotters’ Club, Bogdan presents us with a lively cast of characters, using their often-farcical interactions with each other to interrogate larger, more serious themes. From lonely Bernard to earnest but increasingly perplexed Rachel, the psychologist tasked with designing bonding exercises for the group, each figure has hidden depths and an entire life beyond the immediate plot. Their fluctuating relationships with one another, however, betray a lot about their personalities and states of mind, and together present a microcosm of society as well as an apt illustration of the problems caused by communication breakdowns. With the reader aware of everything going on in the castle, but most of the characters ignorant of the others’ actions, we join the narrator in shaking our heads and wishing – as we probably often do outside the novel – that people would just talk to one another.

Not only does Bogdan display keen observational skills when it comes to human relationships, she also has a particular knack for getting inside the minds of animals, many of whom seem ever-so-slightly humanoid in their behaviours. Thus, the peacock of the title isn’t just a metaphor for the novel’s main theme – beating around the bush – but its sudden tendency to view anything blue and shiny (including a newly arrived car) as potential competition finds uncanny parallels in human society and, within that, the workplace.

As increasing numbers of us spend more time in the office again, Bogdan’s hilarious dissection of workplace relationships is a timely addition to any bookshelf. And for anyone worried that a novel written originally in German just won’t ‘get’ British humour or might rely too heavily on clichés about Scotland, you can rest assured: Bogdan has done her cultural research and mastered the fine line between stereotype and satire. In Annie Rutherford’s sprightly translation, which sparkles with wit and revels in the narrator’s sharp-tongued role, readers are in safe hands. Abounding with awkwardness, authentically odd characters and a series of implausible events, The Peacock is a carefully staged, idiosyncratic and completely delightful novel. Recommend it to your colleagues – and everyone else.


Eleanor Updegraff is a committed bookworm with a particular penchant for literature in translation. She makes her living from words in all forms: as a ghostwriter, German–English translator, copy-editor and book reviewer, and author of short stories and creative non-fiction. She grew up in the UK and has lived in Austria in 2015, where she’s often to be found in a coffee shop or running around a lake

London library: Borrow the English translation.

Glasgow library: Borrow the original German title.

E-Library: Borrow the original German title digitally.

Find out more about the blog.

Book Blog Overview