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Stephen Bann

5 July 1984
Time in a Red Coat 
by George Mackay Brown.
Chatto, 249 pp., £8.95, May 1984, 0 7011 2804 6
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Harland’s Half-Acre 
by David Malouf.
Chatto, 230 pp., £8.95, May 1984, 0 7011 2737 6
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The Border 
by Elaine Feinstein.
Hutchinson, 113 pp., £6.95, June 1984, 0 09 156320 8
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... from time to time, in case it has slipped our mind, that they rest their case in the end on a much more precise theory and practice of language than the on-going bustle of narrative will allow for. George Meredith, to take a good example, plays havoc with the expected sequence of events, expanding and contracting particular elements of the plot so that we can feel the sinews of narrative creaking and ...

In Bloody Orkney

Robert Crawford: George Mackay Brown

22 February 2007
George Mackay BrownThe Life 
by Maggie Fergusson.
Murray, 363 pp., £25, April 2006, 0 7195 5659 7
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The Collected Poems of George Mackay​ Brown 
edited by Brian Murray.
Murray, 547 pp., £18.99, October 2006, 0 7195 6884 6
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... diggers-in emblematise that act to such an extent that their lives as well as their poetry and their place acquire an undeflectable fascination. This is as true of Cavafy in Alexandria as it is of GeorgeMackayBrown in Orkney. Born in the Orcadian harbour town of Stromness in 1921, Brown was the youngest of six children. His father was a local postman, his mother an incomer from mainland Scotland ...

Getting on

Patricia Craig

17 September 1987
The Golden Bird: Two Orkney Stories 
by George Mackay Brown.
Murray, 226 pp., £10.95, July 1987, 0 7195 4385 1
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The Upper Hand 
by Stuart Hood.
Carcanet, 186 pp., £10.95, July 1987, 0 85635 719 7
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Dreams of Dead Women’s Handbags 
by Shena Mackay.
Heinemann, 160 pp., £10.95, August 1987, 0 434 44044 2
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... all costs. In the early 1960s, for example, Irish-language enthusiasts opposed the introduction of television into the Gaedhaltacht areas of Donegal, out of apprehension about its Anglicising effect. GeorgeMackayBrown’s Orkney is an unfamiliar, off-shore locality in which everything seems a little richer through being both concentrated and chancy. How long can its distinctive character survive? It ...
24 September 1992
The Last Magician 
by Janette Turner Hospital et al.
Virago, 352 pp., £14.99, June 1992, 1 85381 325 7
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by George Mackay Brown.
Murray, 232 pp., £14.95, July 1992, 0 7195 5149 8
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... which professes such vigorous disdain for ‘modest late 20th-century social realism’. If you want to consider the struggle of the individual in the face of supernatural forces, to address what GeorgeMackayBrown calls ‘the riddle of fate and freedom’, then you are best-off retreating into the distant past, as he has done in his fifth novel, Vinland. Here Brown has returned to the world of ...
22 March 1990
A New Path to the Waterfall 
by Raymond Carver.
Collins Harvill, 158 pp., £11, September 1989, 0 00 271043 9
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by Ted Hughes.
Faber, 55 pp., £8.99, September 1989, 0 571 14167 6
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Poems 1954-1987 
by Peter Redgrove.
Penguin, 228 pp., £5.99, August 1989, 0 14 058641 5
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The First Earthquake 
by Peter Redgrove.
Secker, 76 pp., £7.50, August 1989, 0 436 41006 0
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Mount Eagle 
by John Montague.
Bloodaxe, 75 pp., £12.95, June 1989, 1 85224 090 3
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The Wreck of the Archangel 
by George Mackay Brown.
Murray, 116 pp., £11.95, September 1989, 0 7195 4750 4
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The Perfect Man 
by Fiona Pitt-Kethley.
Abacus, 96 pp., £3.99, November 1989, 0 349 10122 1
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... accuracies. Despite the howls of the excluded, it can be quite easy for modest talent to secure a niche in the pantheons of our archipelago. This produces tacit conspiracies of specialisation. Thus GeorgeMackayBrown specialises in Feyness, Fiona Pitt-Kethley in Coarseness. MackayBrown’s The Wreck of the Archangel may charm – Said stone to buttercup, ‘Dance till you’re yellow rags, then die ...

Roaming the stations of the world

Patrick McGuinness: Seamus Heaney

3 January 2002
Electric Light 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 81 pp., £8.99, March 2001, 0 571 20762 6
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Seamus Heaney in Conversation with Karl Miller 
Between the Lines, 112 pp., £9.50, July 2001, 0 9532841 7 4Show More
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... often literary) anecdote and reminiscence, and has a pervasively elegiac feel. The poems for or about recently dead friends and poets (Ted Hughes, Zbigniew Herbert, Joseph Brodsky, Norman MacCaig and GeorgeMackayBrown) tend to be wide-ranging meditations on literature and language. In his criticism as well as his poetry, Heaney has always excelled at finding metaphors of process for the act of writing ...
5 March 1981
Precipitous City 
by Trevor Royle.
Mainstream, 210 pp., £6.95, May 1980, 0 906391 09 1
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RLS: A Life Study 
by Jenni Calder.
Hamish Hamilton, 362 pp., £9.95, June 1980, 0 241 10374 6
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by J. MacDougall Hay.
Canongate, 450 pp., £4.95, November 1979, 0 903937 79 4
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Scottish Satirical Verse 
edited by Edwin Morgan.
Carcanet, 236 pp., £6.95, June 1980, 0 85635 183 0
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Collected Poems 
by Robert Garioch.
Carcanet, 208 pp., £3.95, July 1980, 0 85635 316 7
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... day’? Douglas’s vernacular translation was pioneering, his language courtly and literary, and if he expanded and elucidated Virgil, his translation left nothing out. Royle is right to mention Sir George MacKenzie of Rosehaugh as ‘one of the few intellectual giants of his day’ – ‘that noble wit of Scotland’, as Dryden called him – but he might have told us that his Aretina (1660) was the ...

Making sense

Denis Donoghue

4 October 1984
A Wave 
by John Ashbery.
Carcanet, 89 pp., £4.95, August 1984, 9780856355479
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Secret Narratives 
by Andrew Motion.
Salamander, 46 pp., £6, March 1983, 0 907540 29 5
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Liberty Tree 
by Tom Paulin.
Faber, 78 pp., £4, June 1983, 0 05 711302 5
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111 Poems 
by Christopher Middleton.
Carcanet, 185 pp., £5.95, April 1983, 0 85635 457 0
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New and Selected Poems 
by James Michie.
Chatto, 64 pp., £3.95, September 1983, 0 7011 2723 6
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By the Fisheries 
by Jeremy Reed.
Cape, 79 pp., £4, March 1984, 0 224 02154 0
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by George Mackay Brown.
Chatto, 48 pp., £3.95, September 1983, 0 7011 2736 8
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... recent poems and prose-poems, and ends with the title-poem, a long meditation which readers may want to compare with Ashbery’s ‘Self-Portrait in an Convex Mirror’ and ‘Fantasia on “The Nut-Brown Maid” ’. The origin of ‘A Wave’ may be the passage about dreams in ‘Self-Portrait’: ‘They seemed strange because we couldn’t actually see them ... ’ As in ‘Self-Portrait ...

Dialect with Army and Navy

David Wheatley: Douglas Dunn and Politovsky

21 June 2001
The Donkey’s Ears: Politovsky’s Letters Home 
by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 176 pp., £7.99, May 2000, 0 571 20426 0
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The Year's Afternoon 
by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 81 pp., £7.99, October 2000, 0 571 20427 9
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... elegies and morosely ruminated poems of divorce, illness and solitude, an air of premature senescence hangs over The Year’s Afternoon. ‘Three Poets’ elegises Norman MacCaig, Sorley MacLean and GeorgeMackayBrown, a list to which he has added Iain Crichton Smith in the dedication of One Hundred 20th-Century Scottish Poems (2000), a sampler from his earlier Faber anthology. Again the cheering ...

Into the Dark

Kathleen Jamie: A Winter Solstice

18 December 2003
... warning lights winked. The Orkney Islands are green and supine, for the most part; a sculptural, wind-honed archipelago. Many of them are inhabited. The islands are whale-shapes, as their poet GeorgeMackayBrown noted. Few trees impede the wind. Water, salt and fresh, in wide bays or lochs or channels, is always to hand, lightening and softening the land it encircles. The land is fertile, the ...

Should we say thank you?

Hugh Wilford: The Overrated Marshall Plan

30 April 2009
The Most Noble Adventure: The Marshall Plan and the Reconstruction of Postwar Europe 
by Greg Behrman.
Aurum, 448 pp., £25, February 2008, 978 1 84513 326 9
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Winning the Peace: The Marshall Plan and America’s Coming of Age as a Superpower 
by Nicolaus Mills.
Wiley, 290 pp., £15.99, August 2008, 978 0 470 09755 7
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... It is not hard to understand why Europeans like Lignes were grateful for the Marshall Plan, the programme for reconstructing Europe after the Second World War, named after the US secretary of state, George C. Marshall. Between April 1948, when President Truman signed it into law, and the end of 1951, the European Recovery Programme (ERP) poured more than $13 billion of aid into Western Europe – ...

The Excursions

Andrew O’Hagan

16 June 2011
... these driers don’t work,’ he said.Driving north through England, you have a strong sense of everyday experience fighting against the kinds of common experience labelled ‘heritage’. There are brown signs directing you off the road to crucial destinations, but in Cumberland, for instance, the land itself is the naked truth, the thing that the heritage industry can’t quite bottle and label ...


John Bayley: Serious Novels

10 November 1994
... hero, or the small company on board McWilliams’s boat, the Ardent Spirit. When James gently but none the less patronisingly dismissed Jane Austen as ‘knowing no more of her process than the brown bird that sings on the orchard bough’, he forgot or ignored the fact that a highly skilled and instinctive artist may know very little about how his task came to be chosen, but a very great deal ...

Love in a Dark Time

Colm Tóibín: Oscar Wilde

19 April 2001
The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde 
edited by Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis.
Fourth Estate, 1270 pp., £35, November 2000, 1 85702 781 7
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... the Prince of Wales, Balfour and Chamberlain in the audience. It was an enormous success. The Importance of Being Earnest was to open on 14 February. Wilde attended rehearsals, and was persuaded by George Alexander, the actor-manager, who was producing the play and performing in it, to drop the act in which Algernon is almost arrested for debt. This play, too, was a huge success, with both critics and ...

A New Kind of Being

Jenny Turner: Angela Carter

3 November 2016
The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography 
by Edmund Gordon.
Chatto, 544 pp., £25, October 2016, 978 0 7011 8755 2
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... music, Victorian bric-à-brac and provincial bohemia’, into the shape not of romance or fable, but a modish early 1960s novel of beatnik shenanigans in the heightened kitchen-sink mode of Shena Mackay and Shelagh Delaney, only nastier. She based her characters on people she knew from her local pub, so closely that her publisher required a letter of comfort from the man who supplied the model for ...

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