Somewhere between Borges and Rabelais, lies Ciaran Carson's Fishing for Amber
, an intricate and conversely dense prose work from one of Ulster's finest poets. Twenty six interlinking sections, each entitled alphabetically--"Antipodes, Berenice, Clepsydra, et cetera, revolve in myriad associations around the story of amber. Through the history and uses of this "Golden Gem of the Ages", Carson revisits Greek myth, Irish folktales, autobiography and the centre of the amber trade--Holland, "a wondrous place, a made-up land", which he first discovered through his father's stories of the Little Dutch Boy, permutated by Belfast colour. "Now I think of stone and water: Mourne stone and Mourne water, Mourne granite setts transported by the medium of water to the Lowlands ... The Mourne granite men smoked meerschaum pipes from Holland."
Meanings are exchanged like commodities. As Carson flies into Amsterdam, he sees more than the eye can see, imagining skaters on frozen canals: "burghers, doctors, ministers; solitary beings performing infinity signs ... knots and nodes of influence; ballad-mongers, dudelsackers, gypsy violinists ... and painters at their easels and palettes, depicting all the aforementioned scenes." Amber was used in varnishes for maps and paintings, for beads in rosaries and as amulets to ward off St Antony's Fire and the narrative delves into vivid descriptions of Dutch Masters, visits St Anthony in Upper Egypt and circles round to the author's wedding on the shores of Lough Neagh, where locals fished for amber. The "riotous, promiscuous abandon" in the works of Jan Steen provides a perfect vehicle for his delight in erudite profusion.
he prose simply teems with detail and the joy in the multifariousness of things and the bizarre links that can be drawn between them. At times the encyclopaedic scope becomes a little indigestible and each chapter should be savoured slowly over time.
In drawing parallels between Vermeer and van Leeuwenhoek, the inventor of the microscope, Carson celebrates their influence on the way we see composition and the effects of light. He is at his best when he brings poetry to his love of painting. "As light falls on the surface of a Vermeer wall, it moves continuously in diffuse harmonies of colour, shifting through the spectrum, swaying, bulging, exaggerating its own bumps and blemishes, making scumbled cloudscapes of them. There are delta rivulets and hieroglyphs of colour." --Cherry Smyth
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.