the m john harrison blog

Month: January, 2021

From the start, Jenni Fagan’s new novel gives the feel of a legend or fairy story. It’s 1910, on an unnamed island in the North Sea. Jessie Macrae and her father have had a falling out, and now he’s dead; or, given that he’s the Devil, he may still be alive. Jessie, who has been growing horns herself of late, launches into the surf in the coffin he forced her to sleep in – perhaps as a stark reminder of her mortality, perhaps as a harbinger of it – and begins to row. Three days later she lands on the Edinburgh shore, where she finds herself at 10, Luckenbooth Close, a tenement building on nine floors, “with catacombs below”. There she’ll meet Mr Udnam – gangster, property speculator and, surprisingly, minister of culture – and his wife; and become the surrogate mother of their child. She is pregnant within hours, or perhaps minutes, as you might be in a folk tale. The spiritual disaster thus ignited – the torn seam between the supernatural and capitalist reality – will haunt the tenement and its subsequent inhabitants for the rest of the century. Read the rest of my review in the Guardian here.

october 2014

Disused quarries filling with water as autumn sets in. Trees. Light rain. The power station siren. Various mud. Fallow deer in the wood, running down a narrow salient between two overgrown pits. I don’t know who was more startled, me or them. All I could do was watch. It’s one thing to see deer in parkland, another to have them flicker past you in and out of the trees on some business of their own. I come home and melt frozen soup for lunch. It slips out of the container with the polished surface of an object machined from rock. How do you continue to write about the world when it’s stopped being mysterious?

My working rule just now is, “Trust yourself.” That’s not entirely true. The other two rules are, “Always flatten it off;” and, “Don’t say too much.” With regard to the latter: a science fiction editor once told me, over lunch in a not very nice restaurant (predictably an act of language in itself), “There’s a perfectly good plot behind your novel, it’s just that the author has taken most of it out.” How perceptive, I thought, until I realised it wasn’t supposed to be a compliment. That was before I moved on to the stage of not putting most of it in.

year 75

Happy New Year, everyone. My 2021 resolution is to go through the doors that open & on the ones that don’t, daub a symbol.