Andrina and other Stories
I keep hearing that short stories are a dying format and that nobody wants to buy them, a viewpoint I’m particularly glad that Birlinn/Polygon aren’t listening to because I’m relying on them for a regular stream of George Mackay Brown shorts. I’ve said it before, and will be saying it again (and again) I think George Mackay Brown is at his best in short story form. So much so that every time I get a new collection I seriously consider re-tackling his novels and having a good hard look at his poetry.
‘Andrina and Other Stories’ feels like a fairly loose collection – no particularly unifying theme but rather a gathering of all the themes that seem so dear to Brown’s heart, so wherever his tale is set be it Africa or Mongolia he’s still seeing it from an Orkney window. His concerns are time, tide, season, poetry, and faith – the things that shaped his life as an islander and story teller; equally his hero’s are fisherman, farmers, sailors and poets. He has little time for the laird or the minister, manse and hall being the traditional enemy of the crofter, but there is plenty of his (clearly deep and Catholic) faith here as well.
It’s hard to write about short stories, especially when some are only a few pages long; what can you say without giving too much away? I find this especially hard with a writer whose prose is as lean and succinct as Brown’s tends to be. He really doesn’t waste words, though he does make up some absolute corkers – at a slight tangent he doesn’t use much dialect either, odd bits and pieces nestled amongst the text but that’s it. Still, two from this collection really stood out for me – The Lost Boy; a Christmas eve miracle that I find as heart warming as it is brief, and The Feast at Paplay which enlarges on an event in the Orkneyinga saga (a major influence for Brown) it deals with the murder of Earl Magnus, later Saint Magnus, by his cousin Earl Hakon. Having killed his kinsman Hakon arrives at his aunt’s house for a feast meant to celebrate a peace between the two men. Thora is forced to treat her nephew as a son and to beg for her own son’s body to bury. These are the bare bones as laid out in the saga which Brown builds on, but oh how he builds; a pig is to be killed for the feast, but its death also doubles for the death of Magnus:
“John set the bewildered piglet on its feet in the yard. He took a knife out of his belt and pushed the blade into the pink throat. The beast squealed. It ran and staggered, and the blood welled out of it. It stood still then shook its head in a sad puzzled way. Blood spattered on the paving stones.”
There’s a stylistic echo of the sagas in that as well, but mostly I just find it a deeply affecting telling of death.
Anyway if you don’t want to just take my word for it and feel you want to read for yourself I’ve acquired a copy to give away. If you’re interested leave a comment (and if commenting on blogger proves difficult an email will do just fine – details are in the profile box) Always assuming that more than one person shows an interest (actually hoping that at least one person shows an interest because I’m very enthusiastic about this book and want to share it) then I will pick a name out of a hat next Wednesday and post on Thursday...
Apologies for the lack of a proper picture, blogger's just not having it tonight.