Other People’s Countries: A Journey into Memory by Patrick McGuinness - review by Gillian Tindall

Gillian Tindall

Soupçons of Bouillon

Other People’s Countries: A Journey into Memory

By

Jonathan Cape 180pp £14.99 order from our bookshop
 

This book had a powerful effect on me. Given that it is a meditation – sometimes hilarious, sometimes freighted with tragedy – on times past, it might seem one for the over-sixties rather than for all ages. But Patrick McGuinness, poet, Oxford don and product of an Anglo-Belgian marriage, has written it, he says, for his children ‘so that they know where they come from’. There is an eventual suggestion that he has, perhaps, written it as a tribute to his mother, who died aged sixty in 2002, with whom he always spoke in French and who provided his main link to a working-class world in a small town on the edge of the Ardennes that is now slipping away from him. The brief section on her passing is headed ‘The Factory for Sad Thoughts’. It takes a detour via bilingualism to communication gaps in dubbed films and ends, ‘Of all the poems I’ve ever written this is the one I didn’t.’

Bouillon, the name of the little town where his mother grew up and he himself spent childhood holidays surrounded by patois-steeped relatives, means broth or stock – a name of such ludicrous appropriateness that he actually refrains from commenting on it. His metaphors for this cherished environment derive, rather, from

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