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Fishing for Amber Paperback – 22 Aug 2000

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Product details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; New edition edition (22 Aug. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862073716
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862073715
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 13.2 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,453,666 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
It was long ago, and long ago it was; and if I'd been there, I wouldn't be here now; if I were here, and then was now, I'd be an old storyteller, whose story might have been improved by time, could he remember it. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 2 Jan. 2002
Format: Paperback
In this remarkable book, which bears the subtitle 'a long story', Carson approaches the outside world as a story, and he helps us read our lives. The book has 26 chapters, 26 stories, one for every letter of the alphabet. If the world seems unintelligible now, every means to get a grip on it is legitimate. By stressing the importance of stories, Carson gives us a way to deal with life and the fractured world. By placing life into a narrative framework, he gives us a tool to deal with it...
Carson is a poet, and one can tell from the attention with which he writes. Carson's love of language, both spoken and written, is obvious from the care with which he chooses his words. His style is very digressive as he moves from one story to the next, thus establishing links between the different parts in his novel and unifying all the different chapters into one linguistic construction, giving us an alphabet to approach the world with...
Carson sings the praise of stories, and sees them as ideal means to shape the protean world into a flexible yet all-encompassing structure. He retells ancient myths (which also explained natural phenomena to the people) and brings the magic of stories back into our lives. This is a book to savour, carefully written by a master writer...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 15 Jun. 2000
Format: Hardcover
I was disappointed with this book, having enjoyed much of Carson's poetry and his introduction to Irish traditional music. At his best, Carson writes with a sense of spontaneity which echoes the music he evidently loves so much. This book, however, seems studied and self-consciously literary, its surprises coming from the odd facts and connections with which it's ornamented rather than from the quality or energy of the writing. A successful piece of library-work, but otherwise very thin. A pity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ms. Margaret M. Mcdermott on 14 April 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I can't think of any other writer like Ciaran Carson, he is in a class of his own. This book is like an Aladdin's Cave and is a spellbinding mixture of fact and fantasy. He educates, delights and entertains. It is impossible to categories this book, just as it is with his companion volume "Shamrock Tea", it is not a novel or a work of non fiction but it is a delightful entertainment and thoroughly recommended.I can't wait for the next instalment.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By simon barrett on 18 Feb. 2004
Format: Paperback
A virtuoso fact-based shaggy dog story rich in beguiling detail (on Dutch painting, myth and of course amber) up to the last page's 'apothecaries' scruples', but ultimately disappointing. If you want to read about classical mythology you are better off with Bulfinch or of course Ovid; for my part I was left wanting to read about Vermeer.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Wonders on every page! 14 Aug. 2000
By John Aardema - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
"Fishing for Amber" is one of those enchanting books one secretly hopes to acquire every time one purchases a book. It is a treasure-box filled with wonders, each more delightful than the last. Part James Burke's Connections, part Umberto Eco, part Chet Raymo and all delightful, the book is a melding of poetry, fact, and all the stops between. The text meanders through ancient mythologies of the Greek Gods and their progeny, ghastly Irish yarns of bizarre encounters with the Fae, baroque histories from when the Netherlands were the cultural and intellectual center of Europe, and reflections on the author's own father, an Irish storyteller himself. Magical and haunting, it is a wild ride on horseback at midnight not to be missed.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
An Incredible Journey 14 Oct. 2001
By Phil Makower - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is an amazing book - a mixture of Fables, Folk Tales, Greek Myths, Dutch history, and Lives of Saints.
26 chapters, one for each letter of the Alphabet, "Antipodes" to "Zoetrope".
There are so many stories here, going off on so many seeming tangents, that you can hardly believe it will hold together, but it does so brilliantly
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Amber Associations 4 Jan. 2007
By Daniel Myers - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As the other reviewers here have been quick to point out, this book is a gallimaufry of narrative strands taken from history, folklore, literature and imagination. But, someone will ask, "What is Fishing For Amber all about anyway?" - If forced to be reductionist about it, I suppose the one word that comes to mind is "Associations." In a sense, the interweaving narratives and histories mimic the human mind's tangential nature. Save that, rather than tangents, the associations' points de depart into another history or narrative are circuitous and eventually land one back at another point in the history of, say, amber.

All this makes for interesting, fascinating, enjoyable reading. So why am I, unlike the other reviewers, giving the book only four stars rather than the superlative five? Because methinks that this book, this woof of nested narratives, covering Proust, Vermeer, much Irish folklore, Greek and Roman mythology, a history of submarines, a (true) account of an actual language based on the diatonic scale, hagiography, ergotism and much, much more is a wee bit too clever by half to be a truly profound read. It takes on more than 350 pages can handle, as is evident in the eight page bibliography of 107 sources.

But it's fun, and you will certainly learn much between the covers of this book. I surely did. So, go ahead, drop your nets into these waters. Just beware that what you pull up will certainly be strange without necessarily being rich. You'll have to cast deeper into some of the books in the bibliography for that.
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