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.’

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