John Burnside reading poem – video

by Peter on April 6, 2011


The Devil’s Footprint, by John Burnside

by Peter on March 21, 2011

This delicious novel by the The Devil's Footprints, by John Burnsideacclaimed Scottish writer John Burnside is at the core a novel about guilt and bad conscience. It takes place in a quiet Scottish setting – the little town of Coldhaven, a sleepy coastal town that from the outside looks idyllic and like a nice place to live, but which hides many secrets and much evil. It is a place where evil is passed down from generation to generation like a contagious disease.

Many dark secrets live in Coldhaven, and one of them reverberates throughout the life of thirty-something Michael Gardiner. He lives in the city in a remote but confortable house that he has inherited from his parents.

Michael’s parents were educated and artistic. His father was a successful photographer, his mother an artist. They settled in Coldhaven because they were attracted to its beauty – the light, the sea, the town – and tried to build a life there. But they were never accepted by the townspeople of this small and isolated community. All the Gardiners suffered. Michael was bullied at school – especially by the malicious Malcolm Kennedy. And someone put dog excrement through their mail slot; they received threatening letters and obscene phone calls. Life becomes more and more difficult. In the end his mother kills his father.

Michael survives and rids himself of the bully. But several incidents from his youth continue to haunt him, and then something happens that reminds him of those incidents, and he becomes tormented. And as we learn more about his past, the story turns and starts to look different from what it did. And increasingly, also, Michael is forced to face the choices he once made and their consequences.

The tale in The Devil’s Footprints is of the kind that makes an impression. John Burnside places us in a position where we become observers of evil and the wide shadows it casts over time. It is powerfully written, and at times almost lyrical. Burnside is a marvelous writer and reading him is a great pleasure. This book is among my Burnside favorites, and one I strongly recommend.

“John Burnside’s elegant prose combines a pulse of accumulating menace reminiscent of Ian McEwan with an unflinching apprehension of nature’s serene indifference that evokes J. M. Coetzee. There’s a timelessness here that will make the reader put down the book and peek out the window at the neighbors.” –Valerie Martin

“[S]tunning: majestically written, with a piercing intelligence and a razor-sharp sense of the human predicament…. [T]he harrowing psychological investigation…is told seemingly without effort, through words that intoxicate, scenes that enrapture, and ideas that ensnare.” –The New York Sun

“Burnside creates an intense, Stephen King-like atmosphere around Michael’s observations and memories, and the complex cast’s secrets and grudges.” –Publishers Weekly

“A master of language. . .”
–Hilary Mantel

“A spare, bewitching, beautifully written book…Burnside nimbly delineates the border where the actual and illusory meet: on both sides he finds dark and flinty human truths.”
–The Times


Bibliography, John Burnside

by Peter on March 21, 2011

John Burnside is a very productive writer, and writes fiction, poetry and short stories.

  • The Hoop, 1988
  • Common Knowledge, 1991
  • Feast Days, 1992
  • The Myth of the Twin, 1994
  • Swimming in the Flood, 1995
  • Penguin Modern Poets 9, 1996
  • A Normal Skin, 1997
  • The Dumb House, 1997
  • The Mercy Boys, 1999
  • Burning Elvis, 2000
  • Love for Love: An Anthology of Love Poems (editor), 2000
  • The Asylum Dance, 2000
  • The Light Trap, 2001
  • The Locust Room, 2001
  • Living Nowhere, 2003
  • The Wild Reckoning (editor ), 2004
  • The Good Neighbour, 2005
  • A Lie About My Father, 2006
  • Selected Poems, 2006
  • Gift Songs, 2007
  • The Devil’s Footprints, 2007
  • Glister, 2008
  • The Hunt in the Forest, 2009
  • Waking Up in Toytown, 2010
The Hoop The Myth of the Twin Penguin Modern Poets 9