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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alienation
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...
Published on 14 Jan 2012 by MisterHobgoblin

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0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Devil's Footprints
I had been meaning to read this book for a long time, ever since I saw a review in The Times. It is not what the title supposed it to be, and rather a strange story.
Published on 1 Jan 2011 by d hunt


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alienation, 14 Jan 2012
By 
MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Devil's Footprints (Hardcover)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Haunting, 28 April 2014
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This review is from: The Devil's Footprints (Paperback)
Once again the author delivers a quiet but powerful story. Set in the northeast of Scotland, the title of this book actually has little to do with the story and although I was expecting a fictional account of witchcraft, the novel nonetheless is a haunting story of a tragic set of events in the narrator's life. John Burnside has a particular talent for storytelling so what really draws you in is the way the story is told as much as the story itself.
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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
By 
Sam Holman - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Devil's Footprints (Paperback)
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
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This review is from: The Devil's Footprints (Hardcover)
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Out of the Depths, 2 Oct 2012
By 
Mr. D. James "nonsuch" (london, uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Devil's Footprints (Paperback)
John Burnside, The Devil's Footprints

Lately I've been reading quite a few books, fiction and non-fiction, about father-son relationships, and John Burnside's novel is one of the most fascinating. No doubt a good deal of the book is autobiographical, for the dust jacket tells us that the same author's memoir A Lie About My Father `appeared in 2006 to enormous critical acclaim.'

Be that as it may, the father in The Devil's Footprints is not at the centre of the story, which is a first person narrative of a recluse whose family attempt to settle in Coldhaven, where an atmosphere of hostility threatens their family life. `I don't want to say there was some kind of concerted action, some plot,' says Michael Gardiner, the narrator, `because they hated one another just as much as they hated people like my parents.' The malice that seems to dog Michael's life is all the more mysterious because it is non-specific, felt rather than explained by any act, though there are plenty of violent acts, including at least two murders.

But this is no detective thriller with the reader being asked to identify motive or track down cause and effect. Much of the hostility is gratuitous and quite possibly mainly in Michael's own psyche. While the father accepts that the locals are `all right ...they're different from us, I'll give you that. They have different - ideas,' John, a friend with an interest in the local landscape, wants to know more. `My father took a moment to think about it, then launched into one of his wordy, mock-serious analyses. "Well," he said, "Imagine you have been set down in a strange place, amongst strange people, people who resemble you, superficially, physically -" But if the natives of Coldhaven are strange, Michael himself is always the odd man out, as often as not estranged from himself, driving himself towards suicide, following a teenage girl whom he feels he might have fathered, walking out into the darkness on country roads in the depths of winter, drifting, a stranger in his own skin.

Religious imagery hovers over the final pages as it has from the title, but there's no salvation for Michael; he has passed through his dark night of the soul and reached some kind of equilibrium: `As it happened, my little chats with Dr Gerard helped: the authorities eventually took the view that I had been suffering from depression,' He returns to solitude, a distance away from Coldhaven, where he can be alone with the birds on the point.

I found this a fascinating rendering of a poet's angst. Burnside has already written eleven collections of poetry and has here written a sensitive portrayal of the essential outsider.
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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
This review is from: The Devil's Footprints (Paperback)
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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4 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "To to be separate, to be apart, is to be whole again.", 24 Mar 2008
This review is from: The Devil's Footprints (Hardcover)
A meditation on the effects of guilt on the life of one man shapes this profoundly moving novel which is mostly set in a small Scottish coastal town called Coldhaven. A dark secret reverberates throughout the life of thirty-something Michael Gardiner, who as the novel opens, is living a secluded and rather self-deluded life in the comfortably remote house that has been trusted to him by his parents.

Educated and artistic, Michael's father, a successful photographer, and his artist mother, eventually settled in Coldhaven after spending most of their lives drifting through Paris and London. Although never really accepted by the inhabitants of this insular community, the Gardiner's endeavored to build a life for themselves, with Michael's father falling in love with this windswept and bleak area with its sky and light, and its beautiful stretch of sea.

As a boy, Michael grows up an obvious outsider, protected by his parents, but also taunted at school, especially by the malicious Malcolm Kennedy who chooses him as his special friend by imposing on him a series of increasingly frequent everyday cruelties. Michael is of course, blindsided by the depth of Malcolm's malice towards him, and wonders at the sheer singlemindedness and the sheer inventiveness of Malcolm's malevolence.

But it is this and the determination that Malcolm will do him real harm which steamroles the inevitable confrontation which ends with a surprised boy falling away into the blackness of shadows and water. It is also this incident which comes back to haunt Michael all these years later when he reads a newspaper article about Moira Birnie, and her two sons, Malcolm, aged four, and Jimmie, three, found dead in a burned out car seven miles from Coldhaven.

At thirty-two Moira had drugged her young sons, driven them to a quiet, sandy road near a local tourist spot, and torched her car, with herself and the boys inside. Michael is intrigued that it happened so close to home, even as he comes to realize that he knew Moira when she was eighteen years old.

It was just a short affair, begun by accident, but the news of Moira's unspeakable act jumpstarts the memory of something Michael has never told, something he'd managed to shift to the back of his mind and leave there for all these years. Only through the gossipy Mrs., K, Michael's house cleaner, and the one who provides Michael with a human lifeline to all of the squalor and indignity of Coldhaven life, can he eventually fill in the blanks in the case of the Birnie killings.

It is Mrs. K who tells Michael that there is an older daughter of Moira's whose name is Hazel. At fourteen, Hazel had been possibly born out of wedlock and although people had always assumed Tom Birnie was the father, it is Mrs. K who sows the seeds of doubt in Michael's mind that maybe he might just be the father.

It is at this moment that author John Burnside deconstructs the critical dynamic of his protagonist's life and basing Michael's story on a simple childhood lie. This rather selfish, unlikable, and habitually absorbed character begins to make connections, fitting the pieces together even as his marriage to Amanda begins to break apart, their lives running on parallel lines as they play at house, pretending to be what we were supposed to be.

Later, with Amanda barely talking to him, even Mrs. K becoming a little remote, Michael spends his days alone, thinking, dwelling on the past, mulling things over, becoming ever more obsessed with the story of Hazel Birnie and wanting to meet her, or at least see her, maybe talk to her in passing, incognito. "No matter indirectly, I had helped drive her mother to the point where she was capable of burning her own children alive."

In Michael's world everything is connected, but he remains ultimately a rather unpleasant and disconsolate observer, almost a blank slate, with the urge to find out more about Hazel making him embark on a strange, drawn-out cat and mouse game that she initiates the first time she speaks to him. When she approaches Michael with a form of seductive confidence, Michael sees it almost as a mission to save the girl from her unfortunate surroundings, particularly from her tough stepfather Tom Birnie who had reportedly driven Moira to suicide in the first place.

As Michael uses his encounter with Hazel to rid himself of Amanda while also trying to purge the lie from his past, the story takes some unusual twists and turns as Burnside vividly recreates his protagonist's rather unpromising and unremarkable life. The beautiful and articulate prose is undoubtedly the highlight of the novel, evoking the chilly and bleak surrounds of the Scottish coast, particularly that of Coldhaven with it's cramped boatyards running down to the sea on tight, rain-colored streets and narrow cobbled wynds, "the cold gray water of the Firth."

Even though Michael endeavors to come to terms with the nature of sin and this incredible urge to confess, he remains in a kind of passive holding pattern, particularly when faced with the disintegration of his marriage to Amanda. As a boy, he was a scientist, a dispassionate observer of the natural world, and after knowledge not cruelty. It isn't, however until the end of the story that he realizes that his folly and the mistakes that he has made inevitably remain his, whether he ultimately chooses or not to take responsibility for them. Mike Leonard March 08.
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0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Devil's Footprints, 1 Jan 2011
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This review is from: The Devil's Footprints (Paperback)
I had been meaning to read this book for a long time, ever since I saw a review in The Times. It is not what the title supposed it to be, and rather a strange story.
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The Devil's Footprints
The Devil's Footprints by John Burnside (Hardcover - 1 Mar 2007)
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