I was prompted to buy this volume of short pieces by the Orkney poet and writer George Mackay Brown by a brief but welcome series on BBC Radio 4, selecting three of the stories for broadcast. I was not disappointed; Mackay Brown may not have left his remote island for long, but he manages to offer a worldly view of human nature. Most entertaining.
Anyone new to Mackay Brown's work should certainly discover plenty of magic in these wonderfully compassionate tales. Short stories though they may be, they embrace many of life's crucial aspects with a beautifully crafted subtlety. Many of the major themes are here, from love lost, won, or unrequited, lonliness, dependency, fear of the future, the clash of time and generations, all delivered with a delicately crafted prose, and a supremely compassionate and unjudgemental eye. The Orkney setting adds its own magic, as anyone familiar with these haunting isles will know, as the past breathes on the shoulder of the present, just as a standing stone's elemental presence looms over the new shiny red tractor. There is also an elemental sparseness here, captured in the language, which reflects the stark isolation of the setting: crofts far from neighbours, isolated shelters from the harshness of the wind, weather and pulling power of the sea. The characters, from Celia onwards, are drawn with a compassionate hand, so we identify and suffer with them, and their inner isolation, and struggle for meaning, security and love. Poetic tales, captured by a master craftsman. If you enjoy this, look for A Calendar of Love (Flamingo Modern Classic) or investigate his poetry or novels.