Andrew Greig is a Scottish writer.
Greig has described himself as a “poet, novelist, sometime mountain climber and musician” and that he “has faced dangers that have enriched his verse.”
I first read one of his novels on holiday, that being The Return of John MacNab.
Andrew Greig studied philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. Greig is more than a story-teller as his novels also reveal the wonder of everyday life reflected back in brief but deeply resonant philosophical muses.
Andrew Greig’s father was a doctor in Bannockburn. I have worked in many hospitals but Bannockburn was my favourite. I say “was” as Bannockburn Hospital was demolished last year. In my opinion it had one of the finest views in Scotland.
My favourite book by Andrew Greig is “That summer”:
This book left me in tears. I read it whilst on a family break in London. Given that our family have kept letters from Florence Nightingale we took the opportunity to visit her museum whilst in London. At the time I felt enveloped in the consequences of wars of different times:
When we returned home to Bridge of Allan, I carved on our old beech tree “LEN, August 1940”. You will need to read “That summer” to understand why:
In Another Light by Andrew Greig:
These are some of the short passages from “In Another Light” that mattered enough for me to transcribe them:
“sometimes you go to do something wrong knowing its right.” Page 4
“I took more painkillers and went to watch TV. Then I was back at the sink. Afterwards I changed my shirt, it was wringing. To the growing timpani in my head, some lightening had been added. Bear it. Thole it, as the old man would have said.” Page 6. This description of brain haemorrhage as felt, is shockingly similar to that I feel upon paroxetine withdrawal.
Golf: “The game you struggle with all your life, but never ever master, that will always humiliate.” Page 9.
“It gets harder to move out of your comfort zone as you get older.” Page 43
Dr Alexander Mackay: “Sandy considers it, as he has often, though he doesn’t believe in anything so irrational as luck. There are reasons for everything, though some are pretty damn mysterious.” Page 71
“Poems appeal to the engineer in me – such great size to power output ratio, wondrous wee gleaming machines, the best of them inexhaustible.” Page 84
“When he died, as when anyone dies, a universe went out of existence.” Page 85
Power generation through Orkney tidal stream: “. . . but that morning we discovered just how preliminary we were. Which was some kind of progress, like they say realising one’s ignorance is the beginning of wisdom, though I’ve seldom found it that enlightening.” Two culture split. Page 87
“This is about a sound knowledge of anatomy and feel” Dr Sandy splints a leg. Mind and brain. Page 102
“The grown-ups, who now included me though I still hadn’t quite got used to that idea, went through to the sitting room to drink and talk.” Page 116
“Once the last person who knew us has died, then we are truly gone.” Page 146
Kirkwall, Orkney: “We walked through the silent flagstone streets past fragments of moon collected in puddles.” Page 200
“You’re solid. If a bit disturbed,’ she added. ‘Disturbed is good. In this world you have to be thick not to be disturbed.” Page 202
“I lay in her narrow bed enjoying the extra space while thinking it striking that the family history Mica had given me last night was essentially her father’s story, not her mothers.” Page 216. Elephant treads under cloak.
“The room quietened the way it does when true feeling jumps the gap between us, so hungry are we for a moment of emotional truth.” Page 223
Aurora borealis: “it happens quite a lot in winter,’ she said quietly. ‘Some things you can see properly only if you live away from the bright lights.” Page 241 This made me think of Biologism and fMRI brain scans that are so brightly coloured.
“There’d be further problems of course, there always are. Otherwise engineering wouldn’t be much of a challenge and life wouldn’t hold our interest long. That’s what we do with our 9-pound brain and opposable thumb and dicky heart.” Page 250
“. . . . everything that’s not for ever, and a voice murmurs, But it’s now.” Page 263
“To make the sound of the shape of the sea meaningful . . . I had to know what it sounded like, that was all.” Page 342
“So I sang myself hoarse as ancient and modern worlds collided, all the way down the twisting coast.” Page 353.
‘Because I was nearly dead once,’ I said. ‘And I’m trying to live with that.’ Page 357.
“it was as if my heart took a photograph.” Page 363
“When a parent dies, sooner or later you may search for the details or meaning of their life, to make some kind of peace. And in that search you may come to glimpse not your father or mother but yourself now they are gone. That’s their last gift to you, the one they give through being dead. Make a kirk or a mill of it.” Page 498
Here is Andrew Greig on Montaigne:
Electric Brae by Andrew Greig (a few notes for Hole Ousia):
“The ELECTRIC BRAE”, known locally as ‘CROY BRAE” runs the quarter mile from the bend overlooking Croy railway viaduct in the west to the wooded Craigencroy Glen to the east. Whilst there is this slope of 1 in 86 upwards from the bend to the Glen, the configuration of the land on either side of the road provides an optical illusion making it look as if the slope is going the other way. Therefore, a stationary car on the road with the brakes off will appear to move slowly uphill.
The term ‘Electric’ dates from a time when it was incorrectly thought to be a phenomenon caused by electric or magnetic attraction within the Brae.
The title ‘Electric Brae’ offers a nice metaphor for the novel. Grieg quotes a piece by H O N MacCaig written in 1927 in which the Electric (or Magnetic) Brae offers a strange illusion, whereby uphill seems to be downhill and vice versa. The characters in Greig’s book also trudge up difficult slopes of lifestyle and relating only to find they are sliding down into grief and misunderstanding. When seemingly freewheeling down happy slopes they find themselves slowed or brought to a standstill by fracturing relationships.
Another subtext to the novel is the image of the Old Man of Hoy, standing as a stark challenge to be climbed and conquered as well as providing a metaphor for the ‘old men’ of the story, the, often dysfunctional, fathers of the central characters.
“Facts, my father grunts. Mind the facts, laddie.” Page 3
“The child has fallen in love with the lamp at night. She calls it ‘moon.’ ‘Please light the moon,’ she says.” Page 3
“All Art is exaggeration – that’s the trouble with it.” Page 3
“Amazing the difference a wee shift of stance makes.” Page 6
‘No bad,’ I said, which was Scottish for pretty wonderful. Page 8
“We came at things from opposite sides . . . even then he talked politics and I talked feelings.” Page 8
“It’s not love that scares me, I told myself, but its disappearance.” Page 28
“And being hard’s the softer option.” Page 29
“The Ultimate triumph of the moon” – written in mirror writing by Kim on the train window.
‘Freedom!’ says Kim. ‘Punk took a flame thrower to your precious herbaceous border.’ Page 40
“Unlike the West Coast, it is not lovely. It’s salt-heartened sceptical, resolutely non-fantastical. East Coasters, he thinks, attenders at the church of What Is.” Page 42
Alison, who ‘grew up on his side of the ’77 faultline. She is relaxed, ironic and informed, knows about a lot more than Fluid Mechanics’ “She refuses the Arts/Science split that he still feels like a Berlin Wall inside. She encourages him to read and think, to extend himself beyond the unhappy limits of the Scottish male.” Page 43
“The defeated, pitiable, and really quite talented rival implodes and fades.” Page 45
“Alison laughs, she seems to do that easily.” Page 46
“. . . because once in a rare while life comes out tickety-boo.” Page 46
“It doesn’t square, Jimmy thinks. But then most folk don’t square when looked into closely enough, and who wants squared people anyway.” Page 59.
“I sit and watch our ship with two captains and no crew move hesitantly into the open sea.” Peter thinks about Arts and Sciences. Page 64
“Sea-smoothed, glittery-grey, the darker concentric circles vanishing towards the centre, this stone lies in my palm, ordinary and unique as any lover. I just happened to pick this one up, or it found me. And once I’d done so, I felt responsible – ridiculous, sure, but I couldn’t just chuck it away.“ Page 105 Referring to Kim.
“We are what we are devoted to.” Page 147
“But there is happiness sometimes, careless and unasked for, like when the sun breaks through and the thrush opens its throat and gives it laldy.” Page 185. Mavisbank named after a thrush that “repeats its love”
“I fold the old blue airmail paper along its worn lines, noticing how Graeme never wrote the way he spoke, any more than I do (we seem to keep a second drawer hidden behind the first). It’s one I’ve come to know by heart. Which, as Ruthie once said, is the only way to know anything worth knowing.” Page 222
“That summer turned slowly into autumn, to winter.” Page 222
“But you can learn to live with Bogles. Gie them their place, and they’ll no hairm you, my Granny used to say.” I think of Gilbert Farie haunting Robert Louis Stevenson page 230
“She was able to spend hours blowing bubbles and then running round bursting them without regret” Mary had a clear grasp of the importance of having fun. Page 252
“He knew there was a problem. But he also knew he could never explain his culture to her, nor why you could no more extract it than you could fillet the backbone and expect the fish to swim.” Page 254 Peter thinks of fMRI brain scans and “neuromania”
“And this burden I think I carry, this guddled past, it’s as real as the monster hanging on a feverish child’s door which in the morning is just a dressing gown.” Gilbert Farie Page 265
“There, I’ve written it. Dearie me. But that’s why sooner or later I’ll stop taking the medication again, because I need my Beautiful World and its meaning and my toys . . .” I think of my private manuscript which I called “Cell-Mates” describing when Stephen Fry meets Prof Ian Reid. Page 295
Last line: “I lean forward and blow out the lamp.”
At the loch of the Green Corrie by Andrew Greig:
“Were it just a matter of digging, down through hard ground and hard history, I would not revisit that time. It is hard enough to attend to today. Hard to stay alert to our partners and friends, to children, to work, the daily pleasures of our lives, even as they slip away.” Page 5.
“My only country
is six feet high
and whether I love it or not
For its independence.”
“Of course, it takes years to discover where ‘your own’ is located. And if you ever do, it’s probably time to go fish another, higher and more problematic lochan.” Page 33
“A bit like writing poetry, I reflect while skewering the guy ropes into the mossy ground. I mean, the absence of audience. The tiny readership, the impossibility of ‘going commercial’, guarantees it is written for its own sake. We trust poetry because it’s not trying to sell us anything.” Page 42
“… he knows fankle from bourach.” Page 46
“For those of us who cannot claim to have a definitive handle on reality – who cannot be aware there are as many takes on it as there are people, and that’s before we even start on the animals’ version – there is always the world brought home to us by other means. For us, poems, novels, songs, music, oh very well let’s say ART, is not a pleasant friviolity, a decoration daubed over the ‘real world’ but as real as it gets. That is, real within our minds.” Page 89
Norman MacCaig: ‘When I am dead – which will be quite soon – I shall probably be known as “the frog poet.”’ (Pause, laughter) ‘They say I write a lot of poems about frogs.’ (Pause) ‘I do. I like them.’ (Pause) ‘This is a poem about a frog.”
“Fair Helen” is Andrew Greig’s latest book. I read it last summer (2014) whilst on a family holiday in Tuscany. As ever, I found myself noting many of Greig’s passages:
Peter was born in Edinburgh in 1967:
Romanno Bridge by Andrew Greig
Passages from Romanno Bridge that struck Peter:
“The things we try to make fit, even when they don’t. The science, the evidence, the puzzle. It’s a life of sorts.” Page 85. This turns my mind to Psychiatry!
“Living always with the past must do something to you.” Page 87. Peter (of course)
He had a passion for absolute truth, was smart enough to know it wasn’t to be found in this life, and stubborn enough to keep looking anyway.” Page 110.
“Still, like the ‘Stone of Destiny’, which came through a horrible mis-translation courtesy of Walter Scott, Lia Fail sounded good, and what sounds good lasts much longer than what is true.” Page 142. Biological reduction of the mind.
“Let a thousand flowers bloom . . . He took a last glance at Helen as he always did before leaving the room, then they were off. All the way down the road she lingered in his head, smiling, pointing at something he would never know.” Page 264. Makes me think of “The Disappearance of Appearance” by Ray Tallis which he kindly sent me in draft form and advance of publication
“Because we remain what we always were, a right mixter-maxter.” Page 307.