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Lucid, tender, and strangely troubling, the poems in this collection are hymns to the tension between the sanctuary of home and the lure of escape. This is Burnside territory: a domestic world threaded through with myth and longing, beyond which lies a no man’s land—the ‘somewhere in between’ of dusk or dawn, of mists or sudden light.
John Burnside’s remarkable new book is full of strange, unnerving poems that hang in the memory like a myth or a song. These are poems of thwarted love and disappointment, of raw desire, of the stalking beast, ‘eye-teeth/and muzzle/coated with blood’; poems that recognise ‘we have too much to gain from the gods, and this is why/they fail to love us’; and, poems that tell of an obsessive lover coming to grief in a sequence that echoes the old murder ballads, or of a hunter losing himself in the woods while pursuing an unknown and possibly unknowable quarry. Drawing on sources as various as the paintings of Pieter Brueghel and the lyrics of Delta blues, “Black Cat Bone” examines varieties of love, faith, hope and illusion, to suggest an unusual possibility: that when the search for what we expected to find—in the forest or in our own hearts—ends in failure, we can now begin the hard and disciplined quest for what is actually there. …[more]
At a critical point in her career, painter Angelika Rossdal suddenly moves to Kvaloya, a small island deep in the Arctic Circle, to dedicate herself to the solitary pursuit of her craft. With her, she brings her young daughter, Liv, who grows up isolated and unable or unwilling to make friends her own age, spending much of her time alone, or with an elderly neighbour, Kyrre Jonsson, who beguiles her with old folk tales and stories about trolls, mermaids and—crucially for the events that unfold in the summer of her eighteenth year—about the huldra, a wild spirit who appears in the form of an irresistibly beautiful girl, to lure young men to their doom.
Now twenty-eight, Liv looks back on her life and particularly to that summer when two boys drowned under mysterious circumstances in the still moonlit waters off the shores of Kvaloya. Were the deaths accidental, or were the boys, as Kyrre believes,…[more]
Michael Gardiner has lived in Coldhaven all his life yet still feels like an outsider. Married but rather distant from his wife, he reads in the local paper that a school friend, Moira Birnie, has killed herself and her two sons by setting their car on fire; but she has spared her 14-year-old daughter Hazel. Michael uneasily recalls his past connections to Moira. As teenagers, Michael and Moira had a brief romance, yet more troubling to Michael is the fact that he was responsible for the death of Moira’s brother, the town bully. In the wake of the tragedy, Michael becomes obsessed with Hazel, who is just old enough to be his daughter. Aware of his obsession, Hazel convinces Michael to take her away from the village and her father, an abusive and violent man.
Setting his story against the untamed Scottish landscape, John Burnside has written a chilling novel that explores the elemental forces of everyday life: love, fear, grief, and the hope of redemption. In its ability to evoke and exploit our most primal fears, The Devil’s Footprints prompts comparisons to the best of Stephen King. In both language and imagery, it is a novel of mysterious beauty, written with the clarity and power of a folktale.
In his eighth collection, the poet looks deeply into how we see our world: the organic relationship between the environment and the unconscious, between ideas and creatures, in poems whose protagonists—from the deer in a suburban garden to the poet’s six-month-old son—are infinitely mysterious. Resonant and luminous, this is a work of intimacy and wonder from one of Britain’s most important poets.