Memory and Straw by Angus Peter Campbell @ aonghasphadraig #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

Insightful, magical, truthful writing

Memory and Straw is yet another wonderful book from Angus Peter Campbell. It’s magical and it’s beguiling and it’s a book to be savoured as you read.

 

Back Cover Description: A face is nothing without its history. Gavin and Emma live in Manhattan. She’s a musician. He works in Artificial Intelligence. He’s good at his job. Scarily good. He’s researching human features to make more realistic mask-bots non-human carers for elderly people. When his enquiry turns personal he’s forced to ask whether his own life is an artificial mask. Delving into family stories and his roots in the Highlands of Scotland, he embarks on a quest to discover his own true face, uniquely sprung from all the faces that had been. He returns to England to look after his Grampa. Travels. Reads old documents. Visits ruins. Borrows, plagiarises and invents. But when Emma tells him his proper work is to make a story out of glass and steel, not memory and straw, which path will he choose? What s the best story he can give her? A novel about the struggle for freedom and personal identity; what it means to be human. It fuses the glass and steel of our increasingly controlled algorithmic world with the memory and straw of our forebears world controlled by traditions and taboos, the seasons and the elements.

 

My Review: Gavin, the narrator, is a scientist working in the very precise world of nanotechnology. His work and his twenty-first century lifestyle means that, like many people nowadays, he inhabits both the virtual online world and the real world.

As he undertakes his latest work project, he finds himself increasingly making comparisons and links to how, in the past, there was a different sort of virtual world, a world of magic and fairies. He concludes that whereas now the internet offers insights and solutions into how we should live our lives, in the past it was the supernatural world that did so offering as it did visions, spells and rituals.

As work and home pressures build to intolerable levels for Gavin, he decides to take some time out and to delve into his ancestry and heritage. He hopes by doing so that he’ll find a clearer idea of who he is and of his place in the world. As he carries out his quest, he finds the lines between past, present and future becoming increasingly blurred but he also comes to terms with where and how he fits in.

There’s a dreamlike quality to Campbell’s writing. His use of language to describe setting and people is exquisite. The plot is fragile. It has to be, but it’s like a spider’s web in its flimsiness. It has coherence and purpose and, for the reader, it’s easy to suspend disbelief and just go with it.

This is a book to transport you, to fully immerse yourself in and to take your time with. It’s an insightful and rewarding read.

 

Memory and Straw is available as a hardcover print book and as an ebook. It is published by Luath Press.

 

26 Books in 2017 Book 25: Memory and Straw by Angus Peter Campbell @aonghasphadraig @LuathPress #books #amreading

Book 25 has to be a book that has won an award. No stipulation as to year or type of award has been given – so this is another broad category.

For my own sanity – and yours – I decided to set my own somewhat narrower criterion. So I kept the choice to awards won this year.

What surprised me as I began my search and trawled through the many longlists, shortlists and award winners was the fact that I hadn’t read many of them. I don’t know if that says more about me or the lists.

So in the end, although I was able to pick one to be my book number 25, it’s actually one I haven’t read yet. But the only reason I haven’t is that I hadn’t heard of it. I wasn’t aware of its release or its prizewinning status before my research. And, although I didn’t set out to pick a Scottish based award or a Scottish author, it’s a wee bit of a bonus that it worked out that way.

It’s a book by an author whose work I love. I’ve read and reviewed (click on the book titles to read my reviews) both Archie and The North Wind and The Girl on the Ferryboat by Angus Peter Campbell, so I was delighted to discover he has a third novel out. It is called Memory and Straw and it won the 2017 Saltire Society Literary Award for Fiction. It looks every bit as magical and beguiling as Campbell’s previous books and has now been added to my to-be-read pile.

Here’s the back cover description:

A face is nothing without its history. Gavin and Emma live in Manhattan. She’s a musician. He works in Artificial Intelligence. He’s good at his job. Scarily good. He’s researching human features to make more realistic mask-bots non-human carers for elderly people. When his enquiry turns personal he’s forced to ask whether his own life is an artificial mask. Delving into family stories and his roots in the Highlands of Scotland, he embarks on a quest to discover his own true face, uniquely sprung from all the faces that had been. He returns to England to look after his Grampa. Travels. Reads old documents. Visits ruins. Borrows, plagiarises and invents. But when Emma tells him his proper work is to make a story out of glass and steel, not memory and straw, which path will he choose? What s the best story he can give her? A novel about the struggle for freedom and personal identity; what it means to be human. It fuses the glass and steel of our increasingly controlled algorithmic world with the memory and straw of our forebears world controlled by traditions and taboos, the seasons and the elements.

You’ll have to watch this space to see what I think of it after I’ve read it.

And so, readers, over to you now – what award-winning book would you choose – and what criteria would you apply to your choice?

 

Book Review: The Girl on the Ferryboat by Angus Peter Campbell

Girl on the Ferryboat

Genre: Contemporary fiction

I had already read a previous book by Angus Peter Campbell, Archie and the North Wind,  I reviewed it here. So I came to read this one expecting great things. I wasn’t disappointed.

The writing is lyrical. Yes, there are smatterings of Gaelic, but this in no way interferes with the reading of the book in English, on the contrary it adds another layer of texture to an already beautiful work of prose.

There’s a sort of magical realism quality to the telling of the tale. It’s a story of love––of love and its possibilities––of lifelong love, of love lost, love unrequited and love found. And intertwined with the lives and loves of the characters there are the opposing forces of chance and fate.

The main character, Alasdair is prompted to look back over his life after a chance re-encounter with Helen whilst travelling on a Hebridean ferry. The two had first met on a similar ferry crossing about forty years before. That meeting had been brief as they passed each other and exchanged a few words on the staircase between decks on board. But it had made an impression on them both. Alasdair reflects on what might have been and what has been. He recalls the time in his youth when, on leaving university he returned home from Oxford to the island of Lewis and worked with a local boat builder to build a boat for a couple of elderly neighbours. These elderly neighbours had experienced a long and happy life together and still had hopes, plans and dreams. He then recalls his own experiences of love––of his first love and then his own long-lasting and happy marriage which ended with his wife’s death. Helen’s story is also told. Indeed there’s a lot of head and time hopping but the whole remains coherent.

The Scottish Hebrides, especially the island of Mull, are beautifully represented as are the ways of island life. But this is no parochial tale. On the contrary the characters are well travelled and worldly wise. Yes, it’s an introspective story, but it’s also outward looking and universal at times.

And although there’s a wonderful magical wistful a quality to the story, the nostalgia is never hopeless. On the contrary the mood is one of acceptance and of hope. Alasdair acknowledges that misunderstandings can have long term, sometimes negative, implications on a person’s fate. But he also recognises that active decision making can lead to positive effects.

This book is a short, poignant, sweet but not sickly, journey through the lives of its characters. in places it reads like a memoir.

Campbell has crafted a tapestry––a tapestry where some of the panels are rather abstract yes, but the whole is well stitched together. It could have got horribly messy but it doesn’t. And, ultimately as with any art,  it’s down to the reader to interpret the meaning.

Type of read: Evening, in a quiet room – just the sounds of a ticking clock and a crackling fire, curtains drawn and with a whisky to hand.

The Girl on the Ferryboat is published by Luath and is available in hardback, paperback and e-book formats.

Archie and the North Wind – a magical, mystery tour

‘Archie and the North Wind’ is a rare thing – a book in English by Gaelic writer Angus Peter Campbell. And it’s sure to be a real treat, for those who cannot read Gaelic, to have access to the work of this wonderful storyteller.

This is a work of magical realism, stuffed with traditional tales and laden with symbolism. It’s part (adult) fairytale and part parable.

The hero of the book – Archie – a bodach before his time – worn down by an unhappy home life, leaves his selfish wife and oblivious son behind, at his home in the Western Isles, and goes on a quest to find the source of the North Wind. The book is all about the journey – the places and the amazing characters Archie meets along the way. Archie forges (yes, he’s a blacksmith) wonderful friendships and is enchanted by the sights he sees.

The reader too is enchanted – by the beautiful prose – ‘He spread the curtains and looked out to the heavens. A large, white bear stood yards away, looking at him. An Arctic hare sat in the snow a little distance behind the bear. All the stars that ever existed blinked above. He thought he saw a row of penguins marching past till he remembered that was at the other end, to the south, at the different Arctic called the Antarctic. Just as they call South Uist one island and North Uist another.’

When Archie returns from his travels it’s as if he’s never been away – as far as his wife and son are concerned – and maybe he hasn’t travelled far in physical terms. But in Archie’s reality he has gone an infinite distance. He has been to Skye, to mainland Scotland, to London, he has sailed around the world and trekked to the north pole.

And his memories of his adventures and of the people he met sustain him in his old age. People like Olga, the Polish horsewoman who arrived on the day of ‘An Siababh Mor’ (the great shaking – a fiercely strong wind) and the splendidly named Gobhlachan (literally meaning ‘crotch-ridden), and John the Goblin, Brawn the sailor, Yukon Joe and Ted Hah.

This is a story very much of the 21st century – but it’s also timeless. For Archie, the old traditional, oral tales prove to be true. For the reader – even in the sophisticated, scientifically dominated modern world – these tales, and Archie’s journey, hold more than a grain of truth and a world of infinite possibilities.

Read this book whilst curled up in an armchair by the fire and a dram in your hand, with curtains drawn and the north wind howling outside – and be transported.

‘Archie and the North Wind’ is published by Luath Press.