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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A noble soul
Muir was born into a tenant farming family on Orkney that lived a traditional pattern of life, little changed for centuries. It was hard yet happy, touched with paradise. When the family emigrated to Glasgow, the harmony they had tentatively enjoyed was broken on the harsh realities of industrial life; and, the shattering blows of illness and death. Muir evokes his early...
Published on 21 Jun 2006 by Nicholas in Moscow

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dull and Dusty Prose from a Leading Poet
I must admit I don't know Muir's poetry or prose at all but I was curious about him because of his involvement with George MacKay Brown, one of Scotland's greatest modern writers.

At that time, the 1950s, Muir was the director of Newbattle Abbey College near Edinburgh where MacKay Brown was an adult student.

Like MacKay Brown, Muir was from Orkney...
Published 23 months ago by John Fitzpatrick


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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A noble soul, 21 Jun 2006
This review is from: An Autobiography (Canongate Classics) (Paperback)
Muir was born into a tenant farming family on Orkney that lived a traditional pattern of life, little changed for centuries. It was hard yet happy, touched with paradise. When the family emigrated to Glasgow, the harmony they had tentatively enjoyed was broken on the harsh realities of industrial life; and, the shattering blows of illness and death. Muir evokes his early life and this terrible shift in beautiful, evocative prose, resonant of the great poet that he is, touching both the boundaries of paradise and the portals of hell. He tells of his slow recovery of well-being through writing, through psychoanalysis and, most importantly, through the love of his wife, Willa. He writes of their travels together in post- First World War Europe, of Prague and of Italy; of making do on writing, especially translating, and living cheaply. He tells of coming to poetry late, of the dreams that often inspired it; and, of discovering, one day finding himself reciting the Lord's Prayer, that he must be a Christian, though of an 'eccentric' kind. It is an autobiography of both depth and surface charm - as he weaves what he calls the Fable (the archetypal patterning of his life, of any human life) with the story (the particulars of his own life). Read it and you will be in the company of fine writer, a great poet and a noble soul.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful memoir, 14 Feb 2009
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This review is from: An Autobiography (Canongate Classics) (Paperback)
Edwin Muir was one of the great Scottish poets of the C20th, and this is his account of his life, split into two broad periods. The first is from his birth to around the age of 30, accounting for his time growing up in Orkney before moving to industrial Glasgow in his teenage years, before finally leaving for London and then Europe sometime into the 1920's. The second half picks up from around WW2 and into the years afterwards.

They are quite remarkably different accounts, different both in style and focus. The first is more concerned with the sharp contrast between his rural upbringing in the epic landscapes of Orkney and the harsh realities of the unhealthy, impersonal, industrial Glasgow. His account of growing up in Orkney is magical and other-worldly, aided considerably by his poet's economy of prose and eye for telling detail and imagery. When he moves to Glasgow this economy stays with him, though it is less magical and mythical things he sees now (arguably though as we are a post industrialist society, is this world any more alien to us than of the agrarian Orkney he describes?).

It is an intensely personal and introspective memoir, to the point where he lives and works as a clerk in various Glasgow offices during the period of WW1, with barely a mention to it. However, such is the ability of Muir's writing to drag you in his account of how he and his family struggled to survive in Glasgow that you barely notice it. Most of his family died within a few years of moving to Glasgow. He was ill for many years himself, cured only by a slum doctor who spent much time with him. The mental scars he bore after his claustrophobic proximity to this tragedy were considerable and lasted for many years after. It is only years later in London when an analyst starts to work with him as a patient for no fee does he realise how ill he was; at one point he was capable of having waking dreams that he could control.

The second part of the book is in sharp contrast to the first, This concerns the period of WW2 and after when he is working as a writer both in Britain (during the war) and in Europe after. You can tell immediately from his prose that this is a much more wordly man concerned with what is happening around him. Most striking is his account as a visiting teacher with the British Council to Prague after WW2. The initial period of optimism amongst the Czechs is then quickly extinguished by a Communist coup. The new regime rolls out the Orwellian nightmare those of us who read the history of the period have come to accept and expect; how dispiriting to have seen it by yourself without the benefit of hindsight we enjoy.

I'm rarely a reader of biographies but this book has been quite dear to my heart since I finished it. It is a good story told with such beautiful prose that I wish it had been twice as long; it could have been about the life of a binman who never left the town he was born in and Edwin Muir would still make it a wonderful read. I'm going to go away and read the rest of his books now.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dull and Dusty Prose from a Leading Poet, 9 Sep 2012
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John Fitzpatrick (São Paulo, Brazil) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: An Autobiography (Canongate Classics) (Paperback)
I must admit I don't know Muir's poetry or prose at all but I was curious about him because of his involvement with George MacKay Brown, one of Scotland's greatest modern writers.

At that time, the 1950s, Muir was the director of Newbattle Abbey College near Edinburgh where MacKay Brown was an adult student.

Like MacKay Brown, Muir was from Orkney but was a very different character.

Whereas MacKay Brown remained there for most of his life, Muir left in his teens for Glasgow and then moved to England and several European countries. He moved backward and forward and returned to Scotland several times but died near Cambridge in 1959 five years after this book was published.

The first part describing his childhood in Orkney is quite interesting and his comment that his family tree might contain a saint shows a sense of humor or romantic feeling that is lacking in the rest of the book.

As an autobiography, I found it rather lifeless and unrevealing. There are lots of incidents and recollections of jobs, landladies, flats, houses, illnesses and visits to various places combined with philosophical and religious thoughts on how he rediscovered his Christian roots.

He was also rather ambivalent about Scotland, identifying with it one moment and then talking about "England" and the "English" as though he was one of them. He was against Scottish nationalism and the use of Scots as a literary language.

Presumably this was because he was employed by the British Council and ran its office in places like Prague and Rome after the Second World War.

The style is also very dry for a poet. He and his wife worked as translators - not the ideal trade for a creative writer, as I know from personal experience - and this may have affected his prose, if not his poetry.

I had hoped to learn a lot about the Scottish and UK literary scenes as he knew many writers but there is little if anything of interest.
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