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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 February 2007
I can't quite understand why Greig isn't being 'hyped', publicised HUGELY and his books stacked up in big visual displays.

He is a STUNNING writer. I came upon him almost by accident and got immediately hooked, and am trying to work through his works quite slowly, with lots of gaps between the books, as he really deserves a slow read.

His characters are all beautifully drawn, the plot lines are good and absorbing, and his ability to create a real sense of time and place wonderful - but it is the writing itself which enchants me, his use of language, his ability to paint with words, particularly the evocation of landscape. His 'poetic' background is very much in evidence - but not in any sort of showy or deliberately 'clever' way, just that I have such a sense of words being used with layer and precision.

He's a really tender writer, and the human fragility and complexity of his characters is carefully and heartfully explored.

I know I'm going to end up even reading the mountaineering books!
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on 18 February 2005
Whenever I open the first pages of a book, this is the engrossing read I am hoping for! A man's quest to know more about his fathers' past is alternated with that past as his father experiences it. Magically evocative of a distant outpost of the crumbling British Empire with its heat, noise, manners and colour juxtaposed with efforts to grasp the last tendrils of a personal history from our modern, technology driven present based in Orkney.
I was encouraged to read this by the fact those who had read it went on to read more of his works - always the sign of a good author. I'm now going to read That Summer!
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on 20 April 2004
An expertly written novel, with many beautiful turns of phrase. Plot summary (with some minor spoilers) follows.
After an illness that took him near to death, Edward Mackay determines to find out more about his late father's mysterious past, and to make good on a promise. While working on an pioneering project whose aim is to make electricity from the awesome power of the waves that batter a remote Scottish island, he investigates the chain of events that caused his father to destroy most of the evidence of his time as a doctor in colonial Penang.
Dr Alexander Mackay's story is revealed by his son's account of his findings, and by the novel's own narrative, which switches between present day Orkney and the dying days of the British Empire in South East Asia. The young doctor has an eventful sea crossing in the company of an eclectic crowd including two sisters, "both beautiful, one a gazelle" (and of an unattainable social class). There is a notorious incident on the quayside on arrival, but the doctor is gradually accepted into Penang society, with regular visits to the Simpson sisters (one of whom is married) for tiffin. He soon agrees to do a task for a friend he met on the voyage that threatens to compromise his integrity as a man of medicine, and following a mysterious accident and a holiday in the Sumatran highlands, he leaves the island under a cloud of scandal.
It's an entertainingly told story, with unexpected turns and coincidences, and evokes the conditions of pre-WWII social stratification in Penang as well as it does the complications of Edward's life as a single, forty year old man in a small island community in modern-day Britain, where customs dictate that knocking on someone's door, before entering their flat and walking into their bedroom, is untrusting and unfriendly.
Edward's investigations, which proceed by way of clues including a buddha figurine and a double-one domino, and helpers including an old lady (who may not be exactly who she claims to be), and a dippy blonde whom he literally bumps into in London, add spice to the present-day story. His recovery, his debt to the past, and a newly discovered interest in music are aided by a feisty Orkney woman called Mica and an odd assortment of colleagues. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- Mica's own emotional problems, and with a nemesis in the form of a belligerent fisherman by the name of Kipper, he manages to come to terms with the person he has become since his devastating illness.
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VINE VOICEon 30 August 2011
Andrew Greig is for me one of the best writers around at the moment; Electric Brae is perhaps my favourite novel ever. Greig is also a published poet and his use of language is fantastic, the beauty of the prose will carry you along. He also Scottish and a few years older then me - his writing reflects that heritage, and adds to its appeal to me.

You can read summaries of the plot elsewhere, the story is of a middle age man seeking meaning after nearly dies from a brain cyst (something that happened to Greig), told in parallel with his fathers experiences as young Doctor in Penang between the wars. It about small closed communities, dealing with loss and how we live the certainty of death. As ever with Greig it is beautiful written with strong engaging and sympathetic characters. An minor quibble is that some of the plot developments towards the end seemed a little forced.

But a wonderful novel that I was immersed in and sad to finish. Quite why Greig isn't more well known I don't understand.
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After a narrow escape from death as a result of a cyst in his brain, Eddie Mackay is obsessed with thoughts of his own mortality. While lying semi-conscious in hospital, he is 'visited' by his long-dead father who seems to want to tell him something. He learns from his mother that his father once had an affair in Penang, back in the late colonial days of the 1930s, and becomes engrossed in trying to find out more about this period of his father's life. The book takes the form of two stories running in parallel – Eddie's recuperation from his illness on Orkney and his father's story as a young doctor in Penang, with the links being provided by Eddie's slow research into his father's life. Both strands involve the complicated love affairs of father and son.

The writing is excellent and Greig brings both very different locations to life. The contrasts between the wild, windswept cold of an Orkney winter and the tropical heat and sudden rains of Penang are vivid and beautifully described. Each society is a small, enclosed one – Orkney by virtue of its island remoteness, and Penang where the colonials remain a separate group within the wider population – and each is a place where secrets are hard to keep, where everyone knows everyone else's business. Eddie, as the main focus of the novel, is particularly well drawn as a man struggling to deal with the aftermath of a traumatic experience, and trying to find something to give his life new meaning. Sandy, the father, is a little less well developed, and indeed this is true of most of the other characters, who seem sometimes to be 'types' rather than people. The characters in the Penang section in particular are a little too stereotypical, as if drawn from the fiction of the era rather than from life. But the Orkney side of the story works much better, giving a completely credible picture of a small society now expanded by incomers who both conform to and yet impact on the traditions of the place.

So, much to praise about the book. Unfortunately, I have a total antipathy to literary fiction that, however beautifully written, doesn't have a decent plot, and I'm afraid this falls into that category. The Penang story is about Sandy's love affair, and we are pretty much told how that ends before it begins. The Orkney story is about middle-aged Eddie's sex-affair (to call it a love-affair would be stretching it) with Mica, the half-crazed woman he sleeps with on an occasional basis. The strand about Eddie's research into his father's past is rather pointless for the most part and ends with a totally contrived and unbelievable denouement. It feels as if it only exists as an excuse to link the two stories. The book might have worked better if it was shorter, but it drags on for 500 pages, much of which is filled with repeated descriptions of the landscape, weather and culture of the two locations. I'm afraid 500 pages of slow-moving, upmarket romance is too much for me, unless it provides some insight into the ever-nebulous 'human condition', and I felt this doesn't particularly. The question of Eddie's fear of mortality is raised many times, but insufficiently examined to provide any feeling of real depth.

As always, it's a matter of personal taste. I'm hesitant to criticise too harshly because as I've said there's much to admire, and many readers I'm sure will find the parallel love affairs sufficient to hold their attention, especially given the interesting locations. But for me fine writing, excellent descriptions and good characterisation are only part of what makes for great literary fiction – it must also have either a strong story or a profundity to it, or preferably both, and unfortunately I didn't find much of either in this one.
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on 17 August 2012
I adore Andrew Greig's writing and I've enjoyed all his novels, particularly 'Electric Brae' and 'the Return of John Mac Nab' but this novel is in league of its own. Beautifully crafted prose and a hauntingly lovely story, I read this one sitting and then turned to the start and began again. In some respects, Greig reminds me here of the wonderful (and currently under-rated) H.E. Bates, in thwe way he can conjure up a three dimensional image of a place so clearly you can almost feel, hear and smell it. This is now one of my favourite books of all time and it'll be one I return to again and again. Bravo, Mr Greig!
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on 19 December 2010
So for a great Audiobook, it needs both the Writer and the Performer to work to the highest levels of performance - and this is a great audiobook.

Even for Readers who Read - Read it anyway - an outstanding piece of fiction.
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on 2 February 2015
Fascinating read where pros runs into poetry weaved back and forward through place and time. A search for a Father. Small community life in a remote Scottish setting felt real to me. The pinnacle chapters were rather John Fowles and leads my cup of chai. Will read this author again and recommend the book.
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on 8 October 2012
I must say I enjoyed this. I didn't expect to enjoy it so much and I liked the way the plot unfolded. I'm not sure how much is biographical but there does seems to be some parallels to the author's life.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 July 2012
This is a truly wonderful novel. I stumbled on Andrew Greig's writing by chance and have been pacing myself in reading all his books, and had saved this for last. I am so glad I did, as not only is it, in my opinion, the author's best novel, it is also one of the best five books I have ever read. Following the quest of the narrator to uncover something of his late father's life, his researches twist and turn, encountering some remarkable people along the way. This chapters telling that story alternate with those of his father's own story- mostly set in 1930s Penang.

The wonderful evocation of place, Orkney and Penang in particular, and the way in which Andrew Grieg has brought his characters - with all their human desires, fears, indomitability, and mortality, to life -would make this a wonderful, emotional novel. But this is allied to a fascinating story within a story which keeps the reader hooked to the last page. At 500 pages this might seem a long book, but it is so compelling that i have just finished it in 2 days, and am already missing the places and characters it brought to life in my mind.

If you buy one book this year - make it this one.
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