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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 3 December 2011
The Silent Weaver joins a growing list of excellent books by Roger Hutchinson that describe and explore different aspects of Hebridean life. Like Calum's Road, Father Allan, and A Waxing Moon, The Silent Weaver uses a singular subject to weave a complex but evocative picture that touches on - among other things - military history, Uist culture, medical practice, and the recent economic history of the Outer Islands. All this in telling the extraordinary story of Angus MacPhee, a crofter who went off to war in 1939, fell ill with a form of schizophrenia and was then sent to Craig Dunain Hospital outside Inverness. For the next 50 years MacPhee chose to remain almost totally silent, but went about weaving hundreds of garments from the grass and leaves he harvested from the hospital grounds. Only a few of these were rescued (by the art therapist Joyce Laing) but Hutchinson uses these basic facts to write a truly fascinating story and go on to place MacPhee's achievement both within his own Gaelic and Celtic culture, and within the world of 'Outsider Art', or 'Art Extraordinary' (to use Laing's terminology).

A wonderful read, full of insight and never once losing sight of MacPhee's achievement in recapturing and rediscovering his humanity against enormous odds. Thoroughly recommended.
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on 18 November 2011
I read a review of this book in the Glasgow Herald and was reminded of a person of whom I had heard when working in Inverness. An excellent read, with background information about life in Scotland in a less hectic age.
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on 21 January 2014
This book is enjoyable on so many levels. The research into ( Ayrshire-born) Angus Macphee's genealogy must have been mind-boggling in its complexity and it does great credit to the author that he was able to unravel it all. Woven within the book is also an interesting history of the treatment of mental illness in Scotland, the wartime adventures of the Lovat Scouts, and of course the story of the strangely enigmatic Mr. Macphee himself.
Having been previously unaware of "Art Brut" ( or indeed Jean DuBuffet) I found it highly entertaining to discover how Joyce Laing took it upon herself to have MacPhee's work designated as art (although I am quite sure it was anyway.) I did find some of her accounts rather fanciful. For instance the taxi driver "jamming on the brakes causing them to literally fall forward" when he suddenly remembered the weaver of grass, or equally the tale of Jimmy Boyle reassuring her that the people of Glasgow wouldn't dare touch the exhibits in Ingram Street. On the other hand it's only due to her work that posterity is aware of Angus Macphee so credit where it's due.
My only wish is that some photographs of Angus MacPhee's woven creations could have been included in this ( Kindle version) book. I'm guessing this is because the extant works are all faded nowadays, and we can only guess how stunning they must have appeared when freshly created. Similarly, some photos of the houses in Iochdar, the Uists or even the initials carved into the rocks wouldn't have gone amiss either. Perhaps they're in the printed version for all I know.

Whether your interest is in grass weaving, the Lovat Scouts, the Hebrides, Mental Illness, Gaeldom ( or indeed any combination thereof!) I guarantee you will love this book. This is now the second book I have read by this author and by Jove, it certainly won't be the last.
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on 9 June 2012
This is another thoroughly enjoyable read from Roger Hutchinson. Taking the life of Angus MacPhee as its core, it covers psychiatric illness and treatment in the late 20th century, the culture of the Uists, the Lovat Scouts and Care in the Community! It would be wonderful to know and understand more about Angus himself but that is sadly impossible at the moment and is likely to remain so. Quite apart from the impact of his mental illness, he had already been a shy and reserved person. He and his family come across as thoroughly nice people. One of the other central characters - Joyce Laing - I personally found quite unpleasant but that is just a personal view. Like "Calum's Road" from the same author, this book is very evocative - without being too sentimental - about a way of life that is now gone for ever. Like Calum with his road, Angus and his grass-weaving was an entirely personal response to the dying of the light in traditional island culture. I recommend this book, and I look forward to reading some more of this author's books.
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on 15 October 2013
To imagine a man, who had serious psychiatric problems, having such a creative mind and the dexterity to match is almost unbelievable! Also, if you have worked in a psychiatric institution then this book is for you!
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on 18 April 2012
I was really looking forwrd to reading this book as I had read a previous work on his life(Weaver of Grass). I was unable to put this book down once I started it. It gave wonderful insight not only into the man Angus McPhee but also into local living in the Isles and mental health in Scotland and how it had been treated then compared to how. Interesting on so many levels.
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on 21 August 2014
This book primarily gives an insight into the life of the people of the Outer Islands of Scotland which is very revealing if that is what interest the reader. It is sad that the subject only seems relaxed for the few years when back in the environment in which he was born after several decades in what to him was foreign parts.
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on 24 October 2014
This is a very detailed book about the life and times of AngusMcPhee. A lot of it explores the events of the time and I learned a great deal about the history of WW2 and the part the men of the Outer Hebrides played in it.
It is difficult not to be moved by the story of the institutionalisation of the time and of all the poor souls caught up in it and I never realised how important weaving grass was to the Outer Hebridean population.
A fascinating book well worth reading.
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on 3 November 2013
My mother's maiden name is McPhee so I was inevitably interested in the story of Angus. I had heard about his astonishing weaving and use of grasses but didn't know the background. This book brings together an evocative portrait of the Outer Hebrides with a critique of psychiatric diagnoses in a moving story of one man who chose to remain silent after who knows what he witnessed during the war.
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on 15 April 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I bought it because I knew about Angus MacPhee beforehand and was interested in his life. However, I also enjoyed reading about Joyce Laing and her Art Extraordinary gallery. A must for anyone who is interested in art therapy and mental health.
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