I have come to George Mackay Brown very late in life and find it rather fascinating that, once a fortnight, I flew over everything he writes of on my way to and from North Sea oil platforms situated north of the Shetlands. I am now too old and infirm to manage to travel to the Orkney Isles which he describes so well, so must content myself with seeking out his works in Amazon's lists. They are well worth the hunt. Anyone with an interest in such things as the sea, small communities, folk, and life in general should take a peek into his books. They are all great volumes to have at the bedside, especially for those interminable insomniac hours: never waste those hours again if you have his books to hand.
This was the first George MacKay Brown book I ever read and since then I have managed to read everything in print by this great, under-rated author. He is one of those incredibly rare talents that could paint a picture with a word, descride a life in a page or the history of a people in a chapter. A true storyteller that brought the story of his people(the orcadians) to the world. This book centres on a young boy growing up on an Orkney island and how he see's his world steeped in myth and legend and coloured with characters from the past and present. The author takes the reader into another world of dreams and passions until the end of the book that comes all too quickly. Read this book and experience the lost art of storytelling.
A moving tale suffused with magic, poetry and a deep wisdom. From Orkney's greatest Bard, the pages reveal the life of an islander from birth to death, as straighforward and extraordinary as any life. As with all GMB's work the language is remarkably simple and yet deeply symbolic. Shortlisted for the Booker prize, this work speaks as perfectly and poetically of our green islands as it does of the nature of man and his place in the universe. This is the work of a truly great poet. Read it!
Like the previous reviewers, I have only just discovered G M Brown, and I certainly expect to read more of his work in the future.
His writing is more lyrical than that of Neil Gunn, but like that great storyteller of Caithness, he succeeded admirably in capturing the atmosphere of northern Scotland, awakening a sense of its long history and opening the minds of its people.
I cannot help comparing this book with Gunn's "Morning Tide", because both works centre on the life of a young boy in the early years of this century, but the two books are different, for, while Gunn creates a convincing character and tells his story, Brown's Thorfinn somehow does not come alive in the same way. He is more of a literary device, a pivotal awareness, through whose reveries we explore the island landscape and come to meet the adult inhabitants. There is, of course, another difference. While Gunn is always conscious of his country's history and culture, the present is what matters; Brown, in this book at least, leads us constantly out of the present and into the more distant past. It is only in the concluding pages that we move into the twentieth century and Thorfinn begins to emerge as a real person.
As I began reading the book and became aware of Brown's simple language and the magical atmosphere of time-travel, I actually wondered whether it was really for children, but his simplicity of style is a means by which he represents the mind of a young child and makes the novel accessible to a very wide public. This is a work of great charm which will appeal to readers of almost any age.
This collection of short stories, connected through characters is the antidote to stress, serious reading, study, attention seeking children, spouses, colleagues, research, randomly imposed deadlines, and all the other things that get you down. Evocative, clear, sometimes almost childlike, but never childish stories that enthrall. I have always been a bit wary of the 'seer' type of Scottish writing, some sort of semi mystical, lilting voiced, Highland and Island fairy stories. This is definitely not that, but a pleasure to read, history of a sort through the eyes of a boy, but with an apparent insight and a 'common sense' explanation for much. Treat yourself to a deserved break, and read this
I read this book a couple of months ago and found it absolutely engrossing. I too thought it may have been written for younger people, but I think it will appeal to anyone who likes good strong tale telling and characters you come to care about, I love the narration of this book. I am fortunate to live in Orkney, a recent move, and GMB's descriptive narrative is really spot on in capturing these islands and her own people.
A delight to read. An amazing array of characters, all unique and yet bound together with their common environment. This author's ability to span the centuries and yet to create something that is still believable, rather than pure fantasy, is wonderful. The links between the years and the characters and the impact one generation has upon the next and the next is remarkable.
This is the first book by George Mackay Brown that I have read. It won't be the last. Superb storytelling, wonderful, lyrical language. I bought this out of curiosity on Amazon - an impulse purchase to get over my free delivery point when I was buying WS Graham's collected poems. If you too have stumbled across this book, then take a chance - you won't regret it!
I do not know how I came to have this novel by George Mackay Brown. The date inside under my signature of ownership is 13 December 1994. I can only presume it was sent to me free as part of a deal for buying other volumes. It has taken twenty-six years for me to read it. I am so glad I read it.
Or rather it is a set of fantastic tales enveloped within the life of one Thorfinn Ragnarsson, a farmer's son on an island in the Orkney's, who undergoes imaginary adventures that encompass an Iron Age broch; sailing down the Volga with Vikings; sleeping through the Battle of Bannockburn; hiding from the press-gang; and confronting the establishment of an RAF base on the island just before the Second World War. Mackay's sweep is as majestic as the seas that surround the island, and yet Mackay (who was a poet of Scotland more than a novelist) is able too - through simple words constructed in often short sentences (the book would suit teenagers to read as much as adults) - to convey intimate pathos and humour about the adventures of the young and dreamy Thorfinn.
But then Thorfinn "... had been fortunate - words were his business; and the hard rock of language, mined and laboured at, might break open and reveal the ore; and out of that gold every poet fashions the chalice sufficient for his offering. (The grail itself is never to be found this side of time.)"
I hesitate ever to give five stars to novels, but this one comes very close.
This is an intelligent and complex novel that explores the concept of time and how the past influences the present.
Having enjoyed but simultaneously been utterly confused by a previous title written by the same author, I felt compelled to read more of his work, to see if I'd failed to understand his intentions, or whether his work just wasn't my cup of tea. Happily, the former seems to have been the case as I found this book made perfect sense, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
Thorfinn, the protagonist, travels through time via dreams and daydreams, thereby sharing with the reader the history and mythology of the Orkneys. The island portrayed in the book is, in fact, imaginary but presumably acts as a substitute for any of the other islands.
Having visited and fallen in love with the Highlands, I adore reading about Scottish history. I also find Scottish mythology the most believable or reasonable so am often drawn to books incorporating it into modern tales. This book didn't disappoint in either area. As an Orcadian, Mackay Brown obviously knows the islands well and does an impressive job of bringing Norday to life.
Mackay Brown's uniquely-styled prose is conversational yet poetic. He animates people and places with such ease that one is entirely captivated, to the extent of forgetting one is reading at all; the reader is drawn into a dream-like state in which time passes almost imperceptibly.
I read this short novel in little over two hours and will almost certainly return to it again. I imagine there is much metaphorical profundity hidden within its pages that will become apparent with closer attention to detail.
The only thing the story lacked, for me, was a recognisable plot. However, it was still an enjoyable read, and I may feel differently about that after a second read.