In this novel, George Mackay Brown links the mediaeval story of St. Magnus, martyred on the Island of Egilsay in the Orkneys in a power struggle, and that of the philospher Dietrich Bonhoeffer, murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War. The story of Magnus is a most compelling one , and it is told here by a man with a poet's way with words ; the scent of the spray, the rich brown of the tilled fields, the distant songs of the monks and the social divide between the people and the Earls of Orkney in the time of Norse rule are all vividly present. Magnus expected to die and went to his death with a sense that it was necessary, head held high. The martyrdom of Bonhoeffer was a more squalid, hole-in-the-corner affair, but essentially its message was the same : that evil can destroy the embodiment of good physically but not the nature of good or our response to the courage and example of the martyr. Mackay Brown's story is only one of countless martyrdom stories, but it has a freshness and poignancy all its own.
on 16 March 2011
'Magnus' is one of those very rare books that you come across only occasionally.
I have read it twice now and enjoyed it more the second time whilst knowing that I will read it again.
A strong narrative with an intriguing use of language combines with an experimental style to make for an unforgettable read.
It is a novel of many threads , and GMB weaves these into a beautiful tapestry that remains with the reader long after the final page.
on 22 January 2002
Magnus is a powerful story of sacrifice. Brown uses several poetic devices to tell the tell. They include using language reminiscent of Norse sagas and placing his characters in a Nazi prison, where Magnus becomes Bonhoeffer. I'm not certain it all works, but Brown's poetic sensibility and eloquence make the novel compelling.