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


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

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

A Mirror - Westend

Follow Literary Review on Twitter