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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scotland's Romeo and Juliet, 10 Sep 2013
By 
markr - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Fair Helen (Hardcover)
This is a beautifully told tale of love, loyalty and rivalry set in late 16th century Scotland. Based on the Border Ballad, Fair Helen of Kirconnel Lea, this novel tells the story of what has been called Scotland's Romeo and Juliet, through the eyes of someone who was an observer of events as they unfolded.

Retelling the story of the most memorable days of his life, the narrator, now in his seventies, looks back on the events of his youth - the family rivalries of the Scottish Borders, the kye (cattle) rustling, the jockeying for political and family favour, the passions, loves and regrets of his life.

The story flows very well, building up in intensity nicely towards the end, and I found myself happily immersed in Scotland in the days of James VI, or Jamie Saxt, for a few pleasant hours. I supect I would not have enjoyed it there, then, though...

Andrew Greig uses Scottish words fairly frequently throughout the book -this really helps with the atmosphere of the tale and if you are Scottish you will have no problem - if not there is a helpful glossary at the end of the book, though most of the words come to mind fairly intuitively without that.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and was sad to have turned the last page.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb historical novel, 8 Oct 2013
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I was inspired to purchase this on Kindle by reading a review in the Literary Review (which the publishers have yet to add to the complimentary comments from other press reviews on Amazon). It is, quite simply, one of the finest historical novels I have ever read. Wonderfully realized in both the place and time it describes, the 1590s in the lawless Borders, where blood feuds going back generations are still rife, it has great literary merit without sacrificing historical accuracy. It describes a cruel and violent period with lyricism that is often moving and is utterly compelling from the first page. I can't praise it too highly.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly delightful, 14 Sep 2013
By 
Big Jim "Big Jim" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Fair Helen (Kindle Edition)
I have to confess to being a huge fan of Andrew Grieg and was really looking forward to this book. This was not in vain as he has produced what may be described as an old fashioned sort of book, one that tells a well worn tale with heart and soul and a fair sense of drama. For me Grieg's main accomplishment has always been an ability to paint beautiful pictures with language that is neither pretentious nor fussy, just to the point and somehow "good". In this case he succeeds brilliantly although to be fair, because of the consistent use of Scots vernacular many will find the glossary a constant companion, which may hinder the flow for non Scots but even then Grieg's gentle pacing and subtle rhythms mean that most readers won't find this a burden.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!, 9 Jan 2014
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A vivid , visceral tale set in the wild border country of 16th century Scotland. The characters were beautifully drawn by Andrew Greig. A poetic genius!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The brown-eyed actor, Ivanhoe's ancestor, Fair Helen and a compromised narrator, 27 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Fair Helen (Hardcover)
Oh blessings on Andrew Greig! He never disappoints this reader.

In Fair Helen he has gone for an old, or I should say, Auld Ballad, and expanded it. It is the tale of the borders, reivers, a couple of student friends in `Embra' in the 1590's, during the time `Jamie Saxt' is King of Scotland and the `Auld Hag' is dying on the throne of England. Meanwhile there are dark conflicts a-brewing between the Auld Religion and the Reformers. We are set for a fine tangle between Politics, Church, State, Ancient Enmities and Loyalties - and incandescent loves.

Adam Fleming, a heidsman's son son falls hard for Fair Helen, an Irvine, who is betrothed (against her wishes) to the powerful son of another clan. These are lawless times (when were they not). Fair Helen is the cousin of Harry Langton, the narrator, a poor scrivener and friend of the Fleming son, who becomes embroiled and a pawn in a deeper game than just that of taking care of his friend and his cousin.

What is new in this piece of writing from Grieg is that it is right in his heritage as a Scottish writer, and there is much which is in the vernacular. And a pretty muscular and rich vernacular it is too.

I made a big mistake in getting this on the Kindle, as the glossary is much less accessible than it would be in the paper book.

So I gave up and surrendered to working out the meanings and hoped I was not making too many mistakes!

But don't think Greig is just a folksy folky writer. He digs a rich seam of love requited and unrequited, filial duty, violence, and his central narrator, our poor scrivener, is deliciously dry, and wry, particularly in his footnotes (reasonably easily found on the Kindle without too much distraction). Not to mention battling with where loyalties lie and who can and who cannot be trusted

Add to the mix, violence, love, betrayal - and the satisfying appearance of a certain brown-eyed actor, just as you were getting a fleeting sense that some of the story was remarkably Prince of Denmark-ish, not to mention a less warm presence in the guise of an ancestor of the writer of Ivanhoe. And then we also have the judgements our scrivener, who loves the classics, has about the various Clan power struggles bearing a remarkable similarity to the City State wars of Ancient Greeks. A sense that the Borderers themselves are writ large, and mythic, and of the ancient lays as potent.

Greig, as ever, provides a treasure chest to ponder. And then there is his writing, layered, textured, snaggled with new-minted images.

There were so many places where I got caught by images, and fiddled with underlining passages of beauty and contemplation

So, here, on memory:

"Yet the dead return to us, no doubt, by night or by day, rising up from the rotted mulch of the years. Up from black oblivion they rise, catch fire and play across the surface of our minds, insubstantial, unignorable"

And this, following a bloody raid and ambush, with a final image which raised hairs on my neck, that poet's way of making images serve double purpose

"I had seen the gathering of a gang, now I witnessed its sundering. Many went their own way at Tinnis. It was dawn of the day by the old standing stone, cold and red-pink as lifeblood carried downriver"

I like the sonorous weight of Greig's prose, its economy, its variety, the darkness always waiting:

"She died around Candlemas on a quiet afternoon, her sister Ann and I present. Her breaths spaced wider. Her chest rose and fell minutely. Her jaw dropped. I heard that last breath go. Then there was but a shell and an open mouth, and within it darkness without end"
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5.0 out of 5 stars Characters as alive as today, 25 Nov 2014
This review is from: Fair Helen (Paperback)
Without doubt one of the best books I've read this year. As Andrew Greig has to be one of the finest poetic novelists I've ever read.
Set in Scotland's 1590's but with characters as alive as today and with so many, many phrases that made me catch my breath at the sheer joy of them.
There is tension and drama and love and language - wonderful indeed. A book to be re-read soon.

And fans of Dorothy Dunnett or Emma Darwin should certainly see this one out, as a starting point.
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4.0 out of 5 stars I would I were where Helen lies, 1 Jun 2014
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A really good book with great use of scots language. Andrew Greig has used Scottish history and border ballads really well
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5.0 out of 5 stars Worth taking the time over this, 18 May 2014
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E. Woodley - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Fair Helen (Paperback)
A convoluted story about a period known mainly by Borderers alone. Exquisitely written, as we have come to expect from Andrew Greig, heartbreakingly beautiful, and leaves one thinking in the soft rhythmic phrases of the ancestors.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I don't tend to like historical fiction but have liked Andrew Greig's previous work ..., 28 July 2014
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I don't tend to like historical fiction but have liked Andrew Greig's previous work - tested the water - loved it
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 9 Aug 2014
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Nice
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Fair Helen
Fair Helen by Andrew Greig (Hardcover - 22 Aug 2013)
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