The Life of George Mackay Brown: Through the Eye of a Needle by Maggie Fergusson - review by Andro Linklater

Andro Linklater

Orkney’s Laureate

The Life of George Mackay Brown: Through the Eye of a Needle


John Murray 363pp £25

You might not expect much from a biography of a man who spent most of his life living with his mother and the rest of it alone in a two-roomed council flat, rarely stirring far from either home. It helps of course that he had the sort of Blakeian imagination that saw a graveyard as a honeycomb full of anguished bees or ‘a green wave full of fish’, but the focus of his extravagant inner eye hardly ever broadened beyond the shoreline of a remote island off the north coast of Scotland. From this unpromising hank of material, however, Maggie Fergusson has fashioned an affectionate and enlightening life of the poet George Mackay Brown.

Names mislead. In this book the poet is referred to simply as ‘George’, as he was throughout Orkney. But George conjures up someone solid, jowly, Hanoverian, whereas this George’s face was an inverted triangle, topped with bushy black hair, narrowing through hollow cheeks to a sharp, undershot jaw, and illuminated

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