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Old 28th Apr 2008, 17:06   #1
kirsty
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Default Re: James Tait Black Memorial Prize

The only John Burnside I've ever finished was The Dumb House, quite a few years ago, and I really, really liked it. However, I've never been able to get on with his poetry, and The Locust Room languishes unfinished in the loft. I did buy his memoir A Lie About My Father, but haven't quite got around to it.

Lots of Big Writers on the non-fic list. My money's on Hermione Lee or Simon Sebag Montefiore (I only found out at the weekend that he's Tara Palmer-Tompkinson's brother in law.)
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Old 30th Jun 2008, 12:22   #2
Quink
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Default Re: James Tait Black Memorial Prize

Kirsty,
I've just read Burnside's A Lie About My Father over the weekend. I was absolutely blown away by the exquisite rendering of such a miserable upbringing. (Sat up to midnight to finish it, sad this morning that I have no more of its beautiful pages.)

I have The Devil's Footprints sitting on the desk, and I'll be having a look at the poetry in due course. All part of preparatory reading for the EIBF in August. It's such a relief to have a reading plan, even if only for a few weeks in the year.
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Old 30th Jun 2008, 12:39   #3
John Self
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Default Re: James Tait Black Memorial Prize

Interested to hear that, Quink. I read Burnside's first three novels and got declining magnitudes of pleasure from them - The Dumb House I loved, The Mercy Boys I admired but it was really depressing (and as most of you know, I love a bit of bracing bleakness in a book, but this was just grim) and The Locust House I didn't like at all despite its promising conceit.

Nonetheless I've read good things about his new novel Glister, which may be worth considering for the Booker longlist. I too would like to have a crack at The Devil's Footprints and, since I read Quink's post a few minutes ago, A Lie About My Father (great title). Might be interesting to compare and contrast with Roth's Patrimony, which I picked up recently.
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Old 30th Jun 2008, 12:42   #4
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Default Re: James Tait Black Memorial Prize

I see that paddyjoe is reading Glister. We'll await any pronouncements ...

As for Patrimony (which I have yet to read) I can only imagine that it would be rather more contrast than compare.
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Old 9th Jul 2008, 10:38   #5
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Default Re: 2008 Palimplist Discussions

Paddyjoe,
Any thoughts on your 3 star rating for John Burnside's Glister ?
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Old 9th Jul 2008, 12:12   #6
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Default Re: 2008 Palimplist Discussions

I feel I'll now have to justify my measly , Quink. I enjoyed Burnside's last book The Devil's Footprints, and I have his autobiographical A Lie About My Father on my TBR list but, I just couldn't build up any enthusiasm when I was reading Glister.

The book is well written, the reviews in the broadsheets are glowing, but I was left unenthused by the story. The story moves along at a decent pace giving different characters' points of view - the inept policeman in the pocket of the local Mr Big, the 'lost boy' who seems intelligent beyond his years, the local recluse who is considered a 'paedo' by the kids who play in the poisoned wood.

I assume the story is set in (or almost) the present and yet Leonard, the intelligent kid whose friends have gone missing, fantasises about Maureen O'Hara, Dorothy Lamour and a young Elizabeth Taylor. He talks about Groucho Marx and Veronica Lake, and a couple of obscure movies that a teenager today would be unlikely to have seen.

The ending for me, with the mysterious Moth Man, was all a bit too mystical (and not in a good way).

Difficult to say why I'm pretty lukewarm with the book. It is well written and an interesting story and I'm sure it will feature in the prize lists. I couldn't find a John Burnside thread so it might be worth starting one as I wouldn't be surprised to see this on the Booker longlist.
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Old 9th Jul 2008, 14:07   #7
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Default Re: 2008 Palimplist Discussions

Thanks Paddyjoe. In Burnside's engagement with the realm of mystical, folklore and fairy tale, there are connections among Glister, The Devil's Footprints and A Lie About My Father (I have read the last two back to back). But this dimension in these two books is not out there at the front slapping you about the head in the way that Magic Realism often does; rather it underpins the narrative, although undoubtedly visible at points . In his memoir, Burnside writes of his (Scottish ?) interpretation and experience of Halloween: Halloween in an adult context - the ghosts on the move, drawn in by the fires lit for their guidance, like a beacon to bring them in.

The exquisite language of the memoir - Burnside has 10 published volumes of poetry as well as a Collected - does not suffuse The Devils's Footprints to the same extent, and this gave me a problem at the beginning of DF. I had to shake off the first person of the memoir in order to appreciate the fictional first person narrator of DF. It took me (too) many pages to do this, saying to myself, why is he using a cliche when he has such powers of eloquence at his fingertips ? Of course, the fault was mine.

In the east coast fictional town of Coldhaven (take your pick !) Burnside mixes oblique views (perhaps like the photgrapher father) with realist descriptions as he moves the characters around the town's wynds and streets. The characters are written with such a variation in depth but to Burnside's credit I never felt I needed to know more about them or their motivation for doing what they did. The only narrative deceit I had to push myself into was Michael Gardiner's - the main character - temporary elective insanity and all that flowed from there, hence the 4 rather than 5 stars. (I'm still raising a quizzical eyebrow at myself.) But his relationship, as a boy, with the elderly Mrs Collings was so well delivered that I could have read an entire book on that alone.

I intend to leave this post spoiler-free. As for the Footprints themselves they could be seen in any number of places throughout the wynds of Burnside's book.

(Note to admin: I do think Burnside deserves a sideshow all of his own.)
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Old 9th Jul 2008, 14:38   #8
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Default Re: John Burnside

Have brought together elements from a couple of recent threads to give Burnside a home of his own.
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Old 9th Jul 2008, 19:40   #9
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Default Re: 2008 Palimplist Discussions

PJ's review got me wondering about the links between Burnside's Glister and Alice Thompson's The Falconer, as both authors are sharing the stage at my opening Edinburgh Book Festival Event. I found it in Quink's review:


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Originally Posted by Quink View Post
.... Burnside's engagement with the realm of mystical, folklore and fairy tale ....
And so it is that Burnside's novel has been promoted to my next read ....
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Old 9th Jul 2008, 20:45   #10
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Default Re: John Burnside

A bit of coincidence here, Lizzy. I bought a ticket this afternoon for the Burnside/Thompson event at the Edinburgh Book Festival, and shortly after that I spotted and purchased a copy of Alice Thompson's The Falconer in one of the local charity book shops. I've never really came across any of Thompson's books before but I thought I should read the book before hearing her talk.

Interesting review. I'll bump it to the top of my pile.
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