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on 20 December 2017
Great read
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 19 August 2010
For a uniquely gifted writer, George MacKay Brown was very self-efacing, if not downright shy about his undoubted talent. I love the bone-spare, austere beauty of his writing, whether poetry or prose, and have a 'mini library' of his magical tales which inhabit both past and present (like leaning against a standing stone in an Orkney field watching a farmer drive past in a shiny modern tractor: the modern and the ancient co-exist side by side).
So what has this got to do with his autobiography? Well, the reason I found this so flat, and lacking in revelation and insight, is that George was comfortable writing creatively, but loathed public display, or 'having to perform': it gave him the chills. It just might be worth reading if you know little about the man, but you'd find it much more fulfilling to read some of his marvellous tales instead. Try 'A Calendar of Love' or 'A Time to Keep' for starters: superb examples of the concentrated web of magic he weaves, filled with love, compassion and forgiveness for the characters he describes. If you want to unlock a little of the mysterious 'feel' of an Orkney setting, try the chapters on Rackwick or Birsay in An Orkney Tapestry. If you then want to explore the life of this unique wordsmith, try Maggie Ferguson's superbly lyrical biography George Mackay Brown: The Life. I envy you the journey...
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on 10 October 2003
what can i say. GMB is a fantastic writer, poet, dramatist and in the pages of this book you really do get to know the real man behind the magical writings he has produced over the years. ill health in childhood is perhaps the reason GMB was able to share his delightful imaginative work with us as prolonged perionds in isolation left him time to day dream and create his wonderful characters and tales. we learn of his time away from orkney where he was able to study at college, and spend time amongst some of the countries great scholars and thinkers of the time. it is such a shame that GMB has past away but we can be thankful he has left us so much to remember him by. this book is a must for any avid reader.
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on 29 October 2011
The cover of this book describes it as an Autobiography but it is more of a collection of jottings in which MacKay Brown tells us exactly what he chooses to and refuses to allow us more than the wee-est of peeps into what he really thinks.

No harm in that and he is honest enough to admit that he was a very strange character indeed who lived with his mother in a council house in Orkney for most of his life, apart from several years in Edinburgh, and never formed a stable relationship with a woman.

"I never fell in love with anybody, and no woman ever fell in love with me," as he puts it. He then adds somewhat unconvincingly: "I used to wonder about this gap in my experience, but it never unduly worried me."

He also had serious problems with tuberculosis and submitted to Scotland's main illness, i.e. alcoholism although he survived them both.

At the same time, he misses the opportunity to share his experiences with the leading figures in the Scottish literary revival.

He socialized with writers like Hugh MacDiarmid whom he memorably describes as the "great king of Scottish letters" and "a kilted man with a terrier-head".

He drops a few comments on poets like Sydney Goodsir Smith and Norman MacCaig. However, we can only sigh in frustration at what we could have learned about this crowd of literary talent who gathered at the Abbotsford pub or Milne's Bar in Edinburgh all those decades ago.

I was quite interested in his comments on how he eventually converted to Catholicism from Presbyterianism, a road seldom travelled, particularly in the west coast of Scotland where I come from and where, alas, sectarianism is still rife.

Otherwise, much of his comments and views on literature and modern life are rather banal, apologetic and of little interest.

Having said that, I am sure admirers of MacKay Brown will enjoy this work.

There is a biography of him by Maggie Fergusson which fleshes out his bond with a woman in Edinburgh called Stella Cartwright whom he mentions in this book, thereby casting doubt on his claim never to have had any romantic relationship.
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