Thursday, June 20, 2024

Cairn - Kathleen Jamie

The last few weeks have been busy, a funeral followed by working at a book festival interspersed with normal work with the now traditional skeleton staff and all the problems that brings with it. It's been exhausting but I think the worst is over now and I can work on getting back to something normal. 

I read Kathleen Jamie's Cairn a couple of weeks ago after getting an advance copy through work, it blew me away (though how publication date has worked around so quickly is frankly frightening). It's a slim book that could be read in a couple of hours, though that would not be the best way to approach it - this is one to dip in and out of and consider at pleasure. 

Jamie has collected her thoughts here - sometimes just a paragraph at a time, and used them to build a marker of turning 60. She considers grieving the loss of her parents, seeing her children embark on independent adult life, how the climate crisis has developed - it's been a recurring theme in her writing. How it feels to get older and a hundred other things. It's a contemplative little miracle of a book that came to me at exactly the point I needed to read it - 50 and caught up with my own grief. 

I have loved Jamies's writing since I discovered her (late) in 2012, I don't know if this is her best book - maybe not, but the right book at the right time is a powerful thing. There is a Shetland word - meid, that refers to prominent landmarks, such as a hilltop cairn, seen from the sea. Line up 2 or 3 of these and they tell you exactly where you are, and help you maintain a fixed point at sea - generally a favoured fishing spot. This summer Cairn, and Jen Hadfield's Storm Pegs are the literary equivalent of meid's for me. Between them I've found a place of calm in uncertain times.

I read somewhere that this book really pushes the line between poetry and prose - I take the point and can't really argue with it, but I might be more inclined to say that for Jamie here there is no line to blur or cross. Anyway, it's a beautiful, meditative, book that says much about the experience of being well into middle age without trying to impart any particular wisdom, and for that last point I'm especially grateful. 

No comments:

Post a Comment