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Customer reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
A Lie About My Father
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on 3 July 2016
read over and over again, its that good. wonderful lyrical writing. paints an amazing picture of "ordinary life" which, these days, is not so ordinary. you feel you are in every room. with his dad. with his mother. with himself. a true poet writing about the past, the pain and the exultation. i am english/irish rather than scottish, but writer is brilliant in the way he describes aspects of ordinary (working class) life. i've rarely seen it described better.

one thing I wanted to comment on was his mother. this is, of course, a story about his father. but of course his mother appears frequently.. it reminded me of the few choices open to women at that time. you couldn't just "leave" and be a single parent, either financially, or morally. for these reasons, you stayed with a man, especially if you had a conventional bent. the marriage you made as a young woman decided the rest of your life. reminded me a little of Alan Johnson's autobiography "This Boy" where the mother suffers in a similar way. Both women died young, in their 40s.

anyway, a terrific, evocative book, read many times.
2 people found this helpful
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on 4 September 2015
I was brought up in the same town as the author (Cowdenbeath) and lived just about 10 doors down the street. Although slightly older, I remember the neighbours and locations he writes about. Also the beliefs and behaviour of the times - the miners the pubs. His writing is personal, accurate and brought back lots of memories. This is my second copy as I gave my first to a friend who now lives in Australia.
3 people found this helpful
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on 5 June 2014
With all the care and precision of his poetry, Burnside's book gently draws you into a story of human frailty; it explores how people learn to live with disappointment, describing that often felt and desperate urge to escape or hide away from problems and difficulties, the pain of caring about the people we love and the guilt we feel when we don't.

It's a beautifully told story exploring universal themes, whilst giving his very personal account. I found it almost impossible to put down, despite the often bleak subject matter, and some of the passages or details in it made me smile in wry recognition.

For anyone who has experienced the anguish of a parent who drinks or the childish frustration of repeated disappointment at a parent's failings, this will ring true. It's not a cheery book but it's not wholly sad either. What it is, though, is a beautiful exploration of a difficult childhood and adolescence, told exceptionally well.
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on 2 December 2013
It took several pages for me to sink into this very detailed but very poetic style of writing. The book is intensely moving the deeper into it you get. I was in tears for much of the ending and chose to read some passages several times over. Like a painting where each time you look at it you see more and different things. I think I can use the phrase 'blown away' honestly here. The book stayed with me and I with it for many weeks after finishing it.
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on 8 September 2014
all good
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on 16 February 2015
Great story.
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VINE VOICEon 3 April 2006
For the most part this is an enjoyable read, boy can the author write? A true poet from humble and desolate origins who evokes his childhood so imaginatively. Read it and you find yourself comparing your own childhood and parental relationships. I felt the book was two chapters too long and did become a bit indulgent and tainted with self pity. This is a minor criticism though as self pity is as intoxicating as drug or alcohol addiction, which the author inevitably succumbs. There is no happy ending, but there is triumph. The power of the human spirit and this shines through from begining to end.
7 people found this helpful
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 September 2009
John Burnside has written a remarkably courageous and deeply thoughtful book in this memoir of his father, who was abandoned as a baby and brought up in dire poverty in the lowlands of Scotland. Burnside is totally without sentimentality, yet his innate tenderness is never far from the surface, even though his relationship with his father was catastrophic.

Burnside's father was a drunkard, a liar and dissembler who ruled with threats and, later with violence. The lies came thick and fast - he lied about his origins, about his past life, and in the final analysis, about manhood - and it is a lie that so many men tell: that a man cannot own a true emotion; that he must not trust anyone; that he must be hard and unforgiving in order to survive. Why is this the story of so many unloving and unloved men? Burnside can't explain this, but what he does do is make it feel real.

As well as the story of his father, this book is also about Burnside's childhood, and what it led to as he grew up and left home. A dependency on psychotropic drugs and a life of drifting and falling - out of the world and into the imagination, and images and sensations are invoked to explain his own disaffections and self-damage. Sometimes the images are intensely beautiful and the writing seems to exist in its own time, beyond the limits of mere storytelling. Burnside is also a poet, and uses language to get behind events and beyond their mundanity to the core of sensations, feelings and events in order to say something profoundly universal about men and fatherhood. I found this brave book compelling reading.
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on 10 June 2006
I tend to buy fiction and memoir by poets because they usually produce concentrated, lyrical and richly written prose, but John Burnside's book had me turning over the pages to see if anything better, anything different, was coming next. I found it too meandering, working through the same material for too long. I'd have to say that the writing is lyrical, though for my tastes a little self-indulgent:the author entertaining himself more than his audience. Maybe my own pre-conceptions have resulted in this disappointment, but it's not often I decide to give up a third of the way through a book because I'm bored. I'll stick to his poetry from now on. I do recommend that.
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on 5 August 2007
Maybe it takes a poet like Burnside to open up this tricky relationship. With a lying, violent drunk of a father, most men walk away, stay away or do the opposite, face up with the same rage then spend a life as a carbon copy. At one stage, knife in hand, Burnside comes close, even starting into the same drowing, LSD instead of booze. But it's not the relationship, it's the act of writing it, that impresses me - a towering kind of compassion that tries to get beyond the anger and self-loathing, to find a point of human contact, something of dignity, in what can't be shed. There are fathers like this everywhere, just tweak the profile to fit. But few sons would or could deconstruct the damage to make something admirable of it. This memoir is a monument to the humanity of men, to the unhardening of hearts. Everyone should read it, preferably before having a son.
15 people found this helpful
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