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George Mackay Brown: The Life Paperback – 19 Apr 2007


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George Mackay Brown: The Life + The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown + Beside the Ocean of Time
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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray; Pbk. Ed edition (19 April 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719566053
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719566059
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.4 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 114,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Product Description

Review

'Other biographies to relish include Maggie Fergusson's life of the poet George Mackay Brown...' (Boyd Tonkin, Independent)

In Maggie Fergusson, Mackay Brown has had the good fortune to find the kind of biographer with whom every writer should be blessed. She writes lucidly, with restraint and without sentimentality. Her affection and sympathy for her subject shine through but she never shirks from showing his darker side. He was a deeply troubled man cursed with melancholia whose legacy was prose and poetry of luminous virtuosity. If there is a better biography of a 20th century Scottish writer I look forward to reading it (Sunday Herald)

'Outstanding... This is an extraordinarily good book; it is sensitive, witty and has an excellent sense of the vitality of the apparently unimportant details that make up lives and characters.' (Lucy Lethbridge, New Statesman)

'An affectionate but clear-sighted biography. Read it alongside his Collected Poems and step into the 'small green world' of [the Orkneys]' (The Times)

'Unmissable' (Glasgow Herald)

'[Fergusson's] biography is infused with love and understanding of the man and his work... she writes with a delicate precision' (Sunday Times, Jeremy Lewis)

'Through his letter and conversations with many friends, Maggie Ferguson discovers that George's life was vivid, courageous and surprising' (Scottish Field)

'He deserves a good biography but has got a magnificent one; sympathetic, affectionate, but not glossing over his weaknesses' (Allan Massie, Daily Telegraph)

'This subtle, sensitive, beautifully-written biography is a superb example of an author wholly in tune with her subject' (Sunday Telegraph)

'His world, in all its wondrous ordinariness, has been brought beautifully to life by Maggie Fergusson's painstakingly faithful labour of love . . . Exquisite and constantly illuminating ' - Sean O'Hagan (Observer)

George Mackay Brown was the most elegiac and profoundly rooted of twentieth-century Scottish writers. Maggie Fergusson's biography is a deftly written and convincingly craggy portrait of this Orcadian genius (William Dalrymple)

'Maggie Fergusson has captured the essence of the man with insight and elegance.' (Sunday Daily Express (Tom Fullerton))

'An excellent and surprising biography' (Kathleen Jamie, Guardian)

This is an outstanding biography: deeply researched, sympathetic and full of insight into George Mackay Brown's magical ability to make poetry out of the simple ingredients of landscape, history and faith, it brings this extraordinary man to life on every page (Claire Tomalin)

'She has drawn a portrait of this man which is both the perfect companion for a rereading of his works and also a fascinating story in its own right...This is an altogether remarkable book. I know it will be unforgettable, and that it will draw me back to many rereadings...It is that rare thing, a biography which is itself a work of literature, the story not merely of a lonely, weird man in an isolated part of the United Kingdom, but of an inner journey which the reader follows enraptured, every bit as exciting and strange as the life-journeys of men of action.' (Spectator)

Clear, detailed, vigilant, droll and beautifully written, this biography achieves what only the best accounts of a life can: the scent and texture of the departed subject's spirit, and, in this case, the spirit of a very particular place, which Maggie Fergusson conveys with the grace of the born

writer

(Candia McWilliam)

This is a truly magnificent achievement. One sign of an outstanding biography is when those who knew - or thought they knew - the subject find surprises and fresh illumination on nearly every page. This beautifully written book evokes both Orkney and the spirit of its master story-teller with a delicate yet unostentatious skill which is the literary equivalent of perfect pitch ... Maggie Fergusson may not have said the last word, but she has stylishly delivered the best and most brilliantly satisfying word so far' (Herald)

'From this unpromising hank of material, Maggie Fergusson has fashioned an affectionate and enlightening life of the poet George Mackay Brown.' (Literary Review (Andro Linklater ))

'A significant monument to an elegiac writer of genuine literary muscle' - Iain Finlayson (The Times)

'An outstanding work of research which no-one interested in George Mackay Brown can afford to be without . . . This is a distinguished example of the art of the biography, beautifully produced in every respect . . . at once sympathetic and professional' (Orcadian)

'And, behold, a miracle! In one of his many letters (and this book makes me long for a big collected edition of his letters) Brown wrote "There must be a secret wisdom inside us all that directs our lives, often against our wills and desires". Maggie Fergusson seems to have tapped into this secret wisdom. She has drawn a portrait of this man which is both the perfect companion for a rereading of his works and also a fascinating story in its own right...She herself writes with a poet's accuracy. The setting of the Orcadian scene in the opening pages is masterly, but she also has the poet's knowledge of when to produce the telling detail....As well as being a preternaturally acute exponent of what makes Brown's poetry work, Maggie Fergusson is wonderfully wise and deep in her explorations of his emotional and religious life.. 'This is an altogether remarkable book. I know it will be unforgettable, and that it will draw me back to many rereadings. It is that rare thing, a biography whi (Statesman)

'After reading this book every reader will feel at home in the harsh, rewarding world of the Orkneys' (Independent)

'Remarkable man. Remarkable art. Fine book that illuminates them both' (Scotsman)

'Strangely, this is what I would call an inspiriting story...and it is very well told' (Spectator)

'Fergusson's biography of Scottish poet George Mackay Brown ignores the modern trend of looking down gleefully from a dunghill height at the subject.' (Irish Times)

'A stimulating and elegantly written biography, an excellent companion to Mackay Brown's "Collected Poems", which were co-edited by... Archie Bevan, and appeared last year from the same publisher, John Murray.' (The Economist)

'Maggie Fergusson treats Brown's sexuality with delicacy and respect' (Times Literary Supplement)

'Loving study' (Jeremy Lewis, The Sunday Times)

'One of the best lives of a poet I have ever read is Maggie Fergusson's George Mackay Brown. She creeps up, not only on her subject, but also on her reader, wooing and cunning. Out of his inner life in a remote place, Fergusson has made a great book about a great man. She is brilliant at understanding the things which did not happen, as well as the things which did, in her subject's life (sex, for example). I seldom feel envy when reading modern books, but I wish I wrote as well as she has done' (An Wilson, The Observer)

'A real treat: a sensitive record of a neglected modern poet that made a convincing argument for his genius' (Tim Martin, Daily Telegraph)

Book Description

One of the most highly acclaimed biographies of 2006 -- now published in paperback

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 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 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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5 of 5 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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By David Lusher TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 10 Sep 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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15 of 17 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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