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The Devil's Footprints [Hardcover]

John Burnside
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Hardcover, 22 Jan 2008 --  
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Book Description

22 Jan 2008
Michael Gardiner has lived in Coldhaven all his life yet still feels like an outsider. Married but rather distant from his wife, he reads in the local paper that a school friend, Moira Birnie, has killed herself and her two sons by setting their car on fire; but she has spared her 14-year-old daughter Hazel. Michael uneasily recalls his past connections to Moira. As teenagers, Michael and Moira had a brief romance, yet more troubling to Michael is the fact that he was responsible for the death of Moira’s brother, the town bully. In the wake of the tragedy, Michael becomes obsessed with Hazel, who is just old enough to be his daughter. Aware of his obsession, Hazel convinces Michael to take her away from the village and her father, an abusive and violent man.

Setting his story against the untamed Scottish landscape, John Burnside has written a chilling novel that explores the elemental forces of everyday life: love, fear, grief, and the hope of redemption. In its ability to evoke and exploit our most primal fears, The Devil’s Footprints prompts comparisons to the best of Stephen King. In both language and imagery, it is a novel of mysterious beauty, written with the clarity and power of a folktale.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese (22 Jan 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385522096
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385522090
  • Product Dimensions: 21.2 x 15.4 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,943,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Burnside has published seven works of fiction and eleven collections of poetry, including his Selected Poems, published by Cape in 2006. His memoir, A Lie About My Father, was published in the same year to enormous critical acclaim, and was chosen as the Scottish Arts Council Non-Fiction Book of the Year and the Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year.

Product Description


"Burnside does darkness in prose the way Leonardo did enigmatic smiles.. The Devil's Footsteps is convincing, occasionally disturbing and ultimately comforting" (Herald)

"A spare, bewitching, beautifully written book... Burnside nimbly delineates the border where the actual and illusory meet: on both sides he finds dark, flinty human truths" (The Times)

"The Devil's Footprints is a classic tale with an old-fashioned, gripping plot. But it is also helplessly good at the things that Burnside loves best: geography, the neighbours, the way people's lives go, and the way people's other, secret lives turn out" (Guardian)

"Both this novel and Gift Songs are superb achievements. To be both a poet and a novelist is highly unusual. To write so outstandingly well in both genres is a rarity indeed" (Financial Times)

"His is a devouring eloquence, unfazed by generic difference and widely admired... what happens on almost every page is absorbing... It can be said of John Burnside's novel what was said by this journal at their outset: that they are the work of an "extraordinarily good writer"" (Times Literary Supplement) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

A breathtaking novel by the author of A Lie About My Father. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alienation 14 Jan 2012
By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
The Devil's Footprints is a meticulously written character study of alienation. Prefaced by a tale of cloven hoofprints in the Coldhaven snow, we follow the self-narrated story of Michael Gardiner, a middle aged Coldhaven resident in more recent times.

Michael tells his story very precisely. There is self-depracating humour; wisdom; and absolutely no feeling for other people. He interacts with others, often quite normally, but seems to have avoided close friendships with his peers, assisted in no small measure by his parents' failure to be accepted into the small Scottish fishing community into which they had moved. There are tales of bullying, alienation, loneliness.

John Burnside plays loose and fast with timelines, carefully withholding information until it can be dropped into the story just late enough for the reader to have to reappraise the previous sections. It's not a particularly unreliable narrator - if anything, Michael is abnormally reliable - it's just the sequencing is done with particularly devastating effect. The story itself is of a very ordinary, normal person who has occasionally done things that are not normal. But always, the explanations are clear and the rational is logical. There's a heavy dose of self pity, but the feeling is that Michael is basically a pretty decent guy. This is impressive, since Michael does one or two things that are pretty far from decent. Hence there is a delightful conflict of emotions as the story unfolds.

The language is very plain and very clear, but at the same time exquisitely beautiful. John Burnside evokes the landscape, the town and the people so very clearly. It's so understated, but quite perfect. Poetic without being flowery.

It would be difficult to say more without giving away the book's secrets. That would be a shame; it's not a long read and it deserves to be uncovered layer by layer.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Devils Footprints 8 Jan 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I started reading this book because my dad had taken it out of the library to read himself, and just happened to show me a particular page that he thought I might find interesting. After having read the part he was showing me, I spent the rest of the day reading it. After having read it I bought it. The book is poetic in the deepest sense of the word, and seems to be narrated on the most part from a view lying below the normal reality of life. The plot is interesting-though slightly wierd in places-and left me with a feeling somewhere between sadness and longing.
It also woke up a feeling in me that inspired me to write. A good book to read if you've forgotten who you are, and are lost in a life you're not sure why you're living.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing Internal Novel 14 Jun 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is one of Burnside's most accessible books. Marked by excellent character development this novel takes place in the present although the narrative is inspired by past events. Wild, picturesque landscapes combined with family secrets and an outcast hero should make this a modern Scottish gothic but its no knee trembler. It fits more into the less scarey, more descent into mental darkness type of fiction.

It is well-written and has some interesting insights into the modern day psyche. The only fault I found was that I was looking for more action - this is a very internal book.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A class act 5 April 2008
By Giles B
I thought this short Burnside novel was really wonderful. Intriguing, haunting, nail-biting, entertaining and written in the most wonderful pared back poetic prose. The child at the heart of the story is just brilliantly brought to life.

I'd definitely recommend it.
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