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George Mackay Brown the Life Unknown Binding – 2007

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Product details

  • Unknown Binding
  • Publisher: John Murray; Paperback edition (2007)
  • ASIN: B002NWBC32
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

More About the Author

Maggie Fergusson is Secretary of the Royal Society of Literature and Literary Editor of Intelligent Life. Her first book, George Mackay Brown: The Life, won the Saltire First Book Prize, the Marsh Biography Award, the Yorkshire Post Book of the Year Award and the Scottish Arts Council Biography Award.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By hillbank68 TOP 500 REVIEWER on 14 April 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was shortlisted for the Costa (formerly Whitbread) Prize, and it comes with the imprimatur of Claire Tomalin, foremost of modern biographers - 'an outstanding biography ... it brings this extraordinary man to life on every page'. I found it absolutely marvellous. In his posthumously published autobiography, 'For the Islands I Sing', George Mackay Brown was highly selective, as he was quite entitled to be. This book fills in many, many gaps, it is beautifully written, it holds the attention on every page and, by so doing, it gives the reader a fuller and more satisfying apprecation of the work of this unique and uniquely wonderful Orkney writer. In particular, and most sensitively, it explores his relationships with women, and they form a key and very poignant element in the book. The relationship between life and work is underpinned by extensive, judicious quotation, and so often the poems or parts of poems seem to grow out of the page, so well has the biographer done her job. I am so pleased that the job has been so well done. GMB deserved it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By W. D. E. Evans on 27 Feb. 2011
Format: Paperback
At the suggestion of a friend in South Australia, I am reading this biography as an introduction to the poetry of George Mackay Brown before a planned visit to the Orkneys this summer. The Collected Poems is an enormous and formidable volume without some guidance, and this plan works very well.

And, apart from that, it is a brilliant and very readable story. GMB's life before he settled in earnest to dedicating his time to his poetry and his native islands was not an easy one, and Maggie Fergusson takes us through it very well indeed. And the poems are well worth her trouble and our reading. I'm looking forward all the more to seeing these islands, which I've wanted to visit for many years.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Rosey on 24 Feb. 2011
Format: Paperback
This is not only a terrific biography of George Mackay Brown, it's a great story of an unusual man from Orkney, a genius of place and time. And it's beautifully written, hard to put down. I couldn't recommend it more highly, both for lovers of Brown's work and for anyone interested in people and the history of a place.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By David Lusher on 10 Sept. 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a highly readable biography of the extraordinary writer that was George Mackay Brown. He lived most of his life in Orkney, but his novels, short stories and poetry have the complexity, language, imagination and spirituality of a much-travelled man. GMB did not have an easy life and remained puzzled by (and uncomfortable with) his celebrity. He did not enjoy good health for much of his life; he lived simply and was a modest man but not one of those tortured souls grinding out poetry in guilt-ridden angst. He was more complex than he appeared, with a spiritual, almost holy, feel for the past that he was able to share through the prism of Orkney. I learned much from this biography, which dips into a range of sources, both personal and published. It is wonderful to see where some of GMB's inspiration came from. He was certainly one of Britain's greatest poets (and that's saying something). His writings are well worth exploring - they really are a joy. This well-written biography is a good introduction to the man, but you are likely only to find the real GMB through his writing, and that is a journey well worth making. Highly recommended.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Mike Grenville on 18 April 2006
Format: Hardcover
Summary: beautifully written, easy to read, in-depth study, warts and all.

Reviewer: an island lover from Hampshire.

As an avid reader of all GMB's work, including his own autobiography, I was apprehensive as to whether Maggie Fergusson's book was going to be either over-sentimental or lacking in depth.

It was neither. It detailed the key influences and events in GMB's life and the background to his major works. I was particularly impressed with the clear and straightforward way that GMB's sexuality was descibed. The descriptions of Orkney (as a frequent visitor)were beautiful; a fundamental influence on GMB's writing and his keen sense of hospitality.

One small request is to have a bibliography in future editions and please leave out 'Through the Eye of a Needle' in the title; it has no meaning?

Overall a wonderful book about a fascinating man.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Sentinel TOP 500 REVIEWER on 12 July 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful biography: full of lyrical detail, and with an insight and sensitivity which delivers this self-effacing writer/poet to the reader with a genuine stamp of authenticity. Fergusson covers George's life in remarkable detail throughout, both within Orkney, and his adventures 'sooth' at Newbattle College, Edinburgh University, Rose Street pub/poet 'society', Aberdeen, Ireland et al. Although his creative/dissolute Edinburgh days are well drawn, Fergusson is able to magic an authentic sense of Orkney life, with its precious clear light and fragile Spring/Summer days, and the dark, roaring monster of winter, which grips both body and soul in a chill embrace.

The biography charts a similar pattern of 'rise and fall' in George's creative, and love life, and has a richly supporting cast of poets and writers from Scotland and elsewhere. The text is very well referenced, and interleaved with extracts from his and others work, which is exquisitely chosen to illustrate the points she makes, and has a deeply enriching quality. Drink, religion, love, illness and depression, all weave threads throughout this satisfying tapestry of George's life. At the last though, it is the clear sense of Orcadian magic, a spare, austere beauty, which shimmers in these pages, just as it does in the poetry and the prose of this incomparable island bard. For me, this comes as such a relief after the disappointment of George's bland 'autobiography' For the Islands I Sing: An Autobiography Essential reading.
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