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A Summer of Drowning Paperback – 1 Mar 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (1 Mar 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099422379
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099422372
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 62,892 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"It's very, very rare for a writer to be equally good at poems and novels. John Burnside is. He's a brilliant poet, a brilliant memoirist, and a brilliant novelist ... breathtakingly good" (Christina Patterson Independent)

"The most defining aspect of Burnside's work aside from its linguistic exactness is the beauty of his prose. Quite simply, he is a wonderful writer. Whatever he is writing always seems real and, considering much of the content of this new novel, that is a considerable asset for any storyteller" (Eileen Battersby Irish Times)

"Burnside allows the ambiguity to remain in a hauntingly memorable book" (Nick Rennison Sunday Times)

"In this beautifully sustained novel madness, mystery and myth-making collide. Burnside has an eerie attunement to the ineffable nature of existence and the fictions we construct to navigate and explain it" (Adam O'Riordan Financial Times)

"The novel invites you to view storytelling as akin to madness...In a book that often makes coded reference to itself to provoke serious thought as to what fiction is about, this counts as a joke. Its evasions may discomfit those who like to know exactly where they stand, but those who enjoy being teased as well as spooked should relish an eerie, ethereal novel that alludes to Lewis Carroll and uses methods of Hitchcock and David Lynch" (Daily Telegraph)

Book Description

A terrifying and dream-like new novel from one of our greatest contemporary writers.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By SouthScot on 21 Sep 2011
Format: Hardcover
Totally engrossing story deep into the thoughts, feelings, sensings of a young solitary Norwegian woman living in a remote island in the far north. Ostensibly it's a story about a number of tragic events that occurred in summer in the insomnia-inducing time of midnight sun, but these actually play a more peripheral role than you might imagine. This is no Nordic crime thriller, but a much deeper exploration of psyche and perception.

It's set in a hallucinatory, dreamlike environment and the story reflects these qualities too. Everything is told from the viewpoint of the girl, Liv, with few outside anchors to corroborate her, so the atmosphere is both unsettling and claustrophobic. It's difficult to be sure of what we are told and at times almost everything seems uncertain. Are these criminal events? Is it the fantasy of a too solitary and isolated girl? Is it a descent into madness? Are supernatural events occurring?

Some of the descriptions are extremely intense, particularly of the landscape in the midnight sun or middnattsol with its "white nights", and of the interactions from time to time with other people. The language is beautiful and there's a real atmosphere conjured up of magic and claustrophobia. Liv seems extremely perceptive, able to sense with uncanny accuracy what others are thinking and feeling, why they behave as they do, what they will do next, almost before they do themselves. It's actually quite a shock then when her perceptiveness seems to fail her on a key rare occasion.

This is a great novel but I'm slightly in two minds about recommending it. It won't be for everyone. First, if you're looking for a crime story this is not it.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Ripple TOP 100 REVIEWER on 9 Dec 2011
Format: Hardcover
"A Summer of Drowning" is a book in which for much of the time not a lot happens - but always spookily. Set on the Norwegian island of Kvaløya in the Arctic Circle, the story is narrated by Liv who is now 28 but who recalls events of a summer when she was 18. Liv resides with her artist mother in, if not isolation, then certainly seclusion. The book makes much of the midsummer madness that 24 hour daylight induces and in that respect it is wholly successful. It aims for a dream-like and timeless quality which it largely achieves.

Part of the problem for me was Liv herself. She's an odd character and I never really warmed to her. It occurred to me very early on in the book that there's something not right about her - but what? And did that deserve sympathy or just plain irritation? She makes out that her location is part of her reason for avoiding people, but it seems more than that. She has just finished school but has no friends, apart from an old man, Kyrre Opdahl, who regales her with mythical stories. She repeats herself, well, repeatedly. Partly this is down to the fact that she is exploring her feelings a decade ago so often almost argues with herself about how she felt. The problem I had with this is that it slows down any action and makes it all one-paced.

Yet, while this is a little irritating, what it effectively does very well is to create a level of tension and spookiness to the whole thing. The cover blurb identifies that two brothers died that summer, one was in Liv's class at school and one was his younger brother, but if this leads to you expect a mystery type novel, it's far from that. It's much more mysterious which is part of its charm and it is oddly compelling, but also part of what I found slightly irritating about it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By OvidMet on 26 April 2012
Format: Paperback
When I read the reviews of John Burnside's A Summer of Drowning, I knew I had to read it.
It conveyed the atmosphere of what it must be like to live so far north, where daylight is endless. The sense of place, and the atmosphere of the 'uncanny' and mystery are excellent. I've been left thinking about it and trying to put logic on it - I think that it will live on in my mind.
Very evocative and beautiful, and I very much recommend it.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By J. Reynolds on 18 Dec 2011
Format: Hardcover
This has the makings of a great tale. Setting? Northern Norway. During summer. Great, I think, I know nothing about up there, this should be good. Plot? A girl lives alone with her mother, a painter, and she is troubled by strange goings on. Great, I think, nice little spooker. Love it. Something about a huldra, which is a Norwegian folk story of a woman/creature who lures men to their deaths. Great, Norwegian folklore, check. Spooky tale, check. Some evocative setting that I've always wanted to see but know nothing about? Check.
But the writing style is exhausting. Burnside writes something like this: 'And so I thought, at the time, it was a weird feeling, but maybe it was something else, maybe it was a different feeling; or maybe it wasn't, maybe it was a third feeling; but looking back on things, it may have been a fourth feeling. But it really was a fifth thing. Definitely. Except for what happened next, which means maybe it was a sixth thing.' Yeah, yeah, keep me posted. And on and on and on it goes like this. Page after page. Burnside and his narrator can never pin anything down. Sure, you might say, it's the unreliable narrator thing. He's creating atmosphere.
No, actually, he's not, he's creating boredom. I don't care if your narrator is unreliable. Just let me know how she is feeling and end it. Don't go back and forth.

And so I thought of this book, a good book, according to others, according to some, though maybe they are unreliable, so it seems. It felt like a good book, but ended up not so good, or maybe even bad, though, looking back on it, it wasn't necessarily bad as badly written, though maybe it was poorly thought out. Or edited. Maybe, just maybe it was edited poorly. Or not. Maybe they meant for it to be bad, or, rather, not so good.

Do you get my picture here?
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