At the Loch of the Green Corrie by Andrew Greig

Timor mortis conturbat me, part 2…

🙂 🙂 🙂

At his last meeting with renowned Scottish poet Norman MacCaig, MacCaig laid a charge on Andrew Greig to make a journey after MacCaig’s death to his beloved Assynt in the north west of Scotland, and there to fish in the Loch of the Green Corrie. This is the story of that trip, mixed with Greig’s memories of and musings on MacCaig and his own life.

I’ve said this before, but my rating system is not an indicator of quality but simply of my enjoyment or otherwise of a particular book. In terms of quality, this book deserves more and plenty of people have loved or will love it. So I’ve gone with 3 stars even though I didn’t enjoy it at all.

I often recycle the titles I use for reviews, and I knew what the title for this one would be before I was more than a few chapters in: Timor mortis conturbat me – the fear of death confounds me. I also knew I had used the title before, so checked to see when. Turns out it was when I reviewed the only other book of Greig’s that I have read, In Another Light.

Greig writes of MacCaig’s declining years, of the loss of his mountaineering friend Malcolm Duff, of his own near miss when he suffered from a cyst in his brain, of his father’s death. He tells us of his breakdown following a failed relationship, when he ended up in a psychiatric hospital after attempting suicide. I found the whole thing deeply depressing.

Andrew Greig

Most people of my age have lost people we loved and recognise that we’re closer to death than birth, and we all deal with it differently. Greig writes it out of his system and does so very well. Many people read about it and find comfort and strength from the recognition of common experience. I know already how grief feels and that it passes or lessens in time, and find no benefit or comfort in reflecting endlessly on my own past losses or anyone else’s. Timor mortis has never confounded me particularly – I’m more of an eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die type. So Greig and I are simply not a good match. And that’s not a criticism of either of us.

I abandoned this one at 30%, and won’t be attempting to read any more of his books. But I’m still happy to recommend them to the many people who find some kind of comfort or insight in having the experience of mortality and loss reflected back to them.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

(P.S. TBR Thursday has moved to Friday this week so it can include the result of The Classics Club Spin #17!)

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….He bought a can of Pearl with the last two dollars he had, then dropped a quarter in the Wurlitzer. He punched a number and settled down at a table and tipped his chair back against the wall and put his boots up. He set his hat over his eyes and drifted in the peaceful dark of not being on the road.
….The man in the box began to sing.
….The music rose and fell.
….Out of the darkness came her scent of lemon and vanilla, the curve of a white calf beneath the hem of a pale blue cotton dress, her shape an hourglass, like time itself slipping away. She, before the picture window that looked out on the mimosa dropping its pink petals on the grass. Her slow smile spreading beneath a pair of eyes as blue as cobalt glass. Water sheeting in the window and casting its shadow like a spell of memory on the wall behind. Her little red suitcase turntable scratching out a song beneath the window and he, a boy, with his bare feet on hers as she held his hands and the record turned and they danced.
….Their private, sad melody unspooling in his heart forever.

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….Cusps are often the central features of a stability problem. A classic example is the Euler column, a simple model that explains why steel columns buckle when they reach a critical load. The key objects that underlie this are two smooth but rather abstract surfaces: the energy surface and the equilibrium surface.
….At any given value of the axial load, we can calculate how the total potential energy stored in the column varies as we increase the central lateral deflection. For small loads, the energy graph (plotting energy against central deflection) is usually a U-shape, with a single stable equilibrium at the base of the U. That is where the system will stay, happily and safely.

(Does it surprise you to know that I abandoned the book at this point – page 18? And frankly I think I deserve a Perseverance in the Face of Extraordinary Gibberish Award for getting that far. However, I highly recommend it to mathematicians who want to build a bridge while looking at pictures of nudes…)

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….What is this love, this profound and absolute attachment I feel for Scotland? Why do these mottled rising green-brown hills, these humped fields, this river, even the familiar cast of the houses, feel so right and move me so? Lesley accepts that she is English, but it is not a defining fact for her, any more than being right-handed or blue-eyed. Whereas she can see that for me being Scottish is fundamental to who I am.
….As I turn off at the Tore roundabout onto the A835 to Ullapool, drive on past scattered villages where the valley pushes a green wedge between the hills on either side, I’m thinking of one of MacCaig’s shortest poems, Patriot.

My only country
is six feet high
and whether I love it or not
I’ll die
for its independence.

….The idea of patriotism was abhorrent to him. He’d seen enough of what it led to. He could not love an abstraction. But he loved – my God how he loved! – things that were solid, concrete, particular: some people, dogs, frogs, rivers, mountains, toads, a wild rose bush, so many kinds of birds. His vision was earthly, corporeal.

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….While I was getting out my pouch, I looked up in the direction of the houses, and as I looked I felt my breath caught back, and my teeth began to chatter, and the stick I had in one hand snapped in two with the grip I gave it. It was as if I had had an electric current down my spine, and yet for some moment of time which seemed long, but which must have been very short, I caught myself wondering what on earth was the matter. Then I knew what had made my very heart shudder and my bones grind together in an agony. As I glanced up I had looked straight towards the last house in the row before me, and in an upper window of that house I had seen for some short fraction of a second a face. It was the face of a woman, and yet it was not human. You and I, Salisbury, we have heard in our time, as we sat in our seats in church in sober English fashion, of a lust that cannot be satiated and of a fire that is unquenchable, but few of us have any notion what these words mean. I hope you never may, for as I saw that face at the window, with the blue sky above me and the warm air playing in gusts about me, I knew I had looked into another world – looked through the window of a commonplace, brand-new house, and seen hell open before me.

From The Inmost Light

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 146…

Episode 146…

The Big Drop has begun! The TBR has fallen by a massive two this week, to 214. Told you! You just wait… you’re going to be stunned at how fast it comes down…

Here are a few more that have their skis on…

Nature

This has been on my TBR since September 2013, so it’s probably time to get around to reading it! It comes highly recommended by my oldest* blog buddy, Lady Fancifull.

(*oldest in the sense of going furthest back – like myself, she’s eternally youthful…)

The Blurb says: For many years Andrew Greig saw the poet Norman MacCaig as a father figure. Months before his death, MacCaig’s enigmatic final request to Greig was that he fish for him at the Loch of the Green Corrie; the location, even the real name of his destination was more mysterious still. His search took in days of outdoor living, meetings, and fishing with friends in the remote hill lochs of far North-West Scotland. It led, finally, to the waters of the Green Corrie, which would come to reflect Greig’s own life, his thoughts on poetry, geology and land ownership in the Highlands and the ambiguous roles of whisky, love and male friendship.

At the Loch of the Green Corrie is a richly atmospheric narrative, a celebration of losing and recovering oneself in a unique landscape, the consideration of a particular culture, and a homage to a remarkable poet and his world.

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Crime

Who knew actor Robert Daws writes books? Certainly not me, till I read about it on The Quiet Geordie’s excellent blog. Since I love his acting, I was intrigued, so entered The Quiet Geordie’s giveaway – and won! The prize was two of his books, of which this is the first…

The Blurb says: The Rock. Gibraltar. 1966. In a fading colonial house the dead body of a beautiful woman lays dripping in blood. The Rock. Present day. Detective Sergeant Tamara Sullivan arrives on The Rock on a three-month secondment from the London Metropolitan Police Service. Her reasons for being here are not happy ones, and she braces herself for a tedious 12 weeks in the sun. After all, murders are rare on the small, prosperous and sun-kissed Rock of Gibraltar and catching murderers is what Sullivan does best. It is a talent Sullivan shares with her new boss, Chief Inspector Gus Broderick of the Royal Gibraltar Police Force. He’s an old-fashioned cop who regards his new colleague with mild disdain. But when a young police constable is found hanging from the ceiling of his apartment, Sullivan and Broderick begin to unravel a dark and dangerous secret that will test their skills and working relationship to the limit.

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Crime

Courtesy of Endeavour Press via MidasPR. No little story behind this one – I just thought the blurb sounded intriguing…

The Blurb says: Chris Peters loves his work in a multi-national bank: the excitement of the trading floor, the impossible deadlines and the constant challenge of the superfast computers in his care. And he loves his beautiful wife, Olivia. But over time, the dream turns sour. His systems crash, the traders turn on him, and Olivia becomes angry and disillusioned. So much bad luck.

Or is it? A natural detective, Chris finds evidence of something sinister in the mysterious meltdown of a US datacentre. A new kind of terrorist. But can he get anyone to believe him? His obsessive search leads him to a jihadist website, filled with violent images; a man beaten to a pulp in a Dubai carpark; and a woman in a gold sari dancing in the flames of her own destruction. Slowly, a tragic story from decades ago in Yemen emerges.

Too late, Chris understands the nature of the treachery, so close to him. His adversary knows every move and is ready to strike. Even his boss agrees: if this program is run, it will destroy this bank as surely as a neutron bomb. And Chris Peters has 48 hours to figure it out…

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Mythology on Audio

I picked this up as one of Audible’s Daily Deals. (In case anyone doesn’t already know, each day they reduce the price of one of their titles to a pound or two, and you don’t need a membership to buy them. I’ve snaffled some great sounding books over the last few months, including this.) I’m not so sure about the reading outside on a freezing night – I’m more of a comfy sofa, blanket and hot chocolate kind of girl…

The Blurb says: Norse mythology forms the delicate backbone of countless modern stories. Fascinating, dramatic and deliberate, with a gripping tension and vitality, the best-selling author of American Gods brings these Norse tales to life.

The great Norse myths are woven into the fabric of our storytelling – from Tolkien, Alan Garner and Rosemary Sutcliff to Game of Thrones and Marvel Comics. They are also an inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s own award-bedecked, best-selling fiction. Now he reaches back through time to the original source stories in a thrilling and vivid rendition of the great Norse tales. Gaiman’s gods are thoroughly alive – irascible, visceral, playful and passionate – and the tales carry us from the beginning of everything to Ragnarök and the twilight of the gods. Galvanised by Gaiman’s prose, Thor, Loki, Odin and Freya are irresistible forces for modern listeners, and the crackling, brilliant writing demands to be heard around an open fire on a freezing, starlit night.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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In Another Light by Andrew Greig

in another light 2Timor mortis conturbat me…

🙂 🙂 🙂

After a narrow escape from death as a result of a cyst in his brain, Eddie Mackay is obsessed with thoughts of his own mortality. While lying semi-conscious in hospital, he is ‘visited’ by his long-dead father who seems to want to tell him something. He learns from his mother that his father once had an affair in Penang, back in the late colonial days of the 1930s, and becomes engrossed in trying to find out more about this period of his father’s life. The book takes the form of two stories running in parallel – Eddie’s recuperation from his illness in Stromness on the Orkney Islands and his father’s story as a young doctor in Penang, with the links being provided by Eddie’s slow research into his father’s life. Both strands involve the complicated love affairs of father and son.

The writing is excellent and Greig brings both very different locations to life. The contrasts between the wild, windswept cold of an Orkney winter and the tropical heat and sudden rains of Penang are vivid and beautifully described. Each society is a small, enclosed one – Orkney by virtue of its island remoteness, and Penang where the colonials remain a separate group within the wider population – and each is a place where secrets are hard to keep, where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Eddie, as the main focus of the novel, is particularly well drawn as a man struggling to deal with the aftermath of a traumatic experience, and trying to find something to give his life new meaning. Sandy, the father, is a little less well developed, and indeed this is true of most of the other characters, who seem sometimes to be ‘types’ rather than people. The characters in the Penang section in particular are a little too stereotypical, as if drawn from the fiction of the era rather than from life. But the Orkney side of the story works much better, giving a completely credible picture of a small society now expanded by incomers who both conform to and yet impact on the traditions of the place.

Stromness winter by Glenn McNaughton
Stromness winter by Glenn McNaughton

So, much to praise about the book. Unfortunately, I have a total antipathy to literary fiction that, however beautifully written, doesn’t have a decent plot, and I’m afraid this falls into that category. The Penang story is about Sandy’s love affair, and we are pretty much told how that ends before it begins. The Orkney story is about middle-aged Eddie’s sex-affair (to call it a love-affair would be stretching it) with Mica, the half-crazed woman he sleeps with on an occasional basis. The strand about Eddie’s research into his father’s past is rather pointless for the most part and ends with a totally contrived and unbelievable denouement. It feels as if it only exists as an excuse to link the two stories.

Andrew Greig
Andrew Greig

The book might have worked better if it was shorter, but it drags on for 500 pages, much of which is filled with repeated descriptions of the landscape, weather and culture of the two locations. I’m afraid 500 pages of slow-moving, upmarket romance is too much for me, unless it provides some insight into the ever-nebulous ‘human condition’, and I felt this doesn’t particularly. The question of Eddie’s fear of mortality is raised many times, but insufficiently examined to provide any feeling of real depth. As always, it’s a matter of personal taste. I’m hesitant to criticise too harshly because as I’ve said there’s much to admire, and many readers I’m sure will find the parallel romances sufficient to hold their attention, especially given the interesting locations. But for me fine writing, excellent descriptions and good characterisation are only part of what makes for great literary fiction – it must also have either a strong story or a profundity to it, or preferably both, and unfortunately I didn’t find enough of either in this one.

Book 12
Book 12

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