I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Casting a Spell

Casting a Spell

David Blake Knox
I Put a Spell on You, by John Burnside, Jonathan Cape, 288 pp, £16.99, ISBN: 978-0224093873 I Put a Spell on You is the third book of memoirs that the celebrated Scottish poet and novelist John Burnside has written. The trilogy – if that is the appropriate term – does not however, follow a simple chronological narrative. Each book is self-contained and moves forward and backwards in time ‑ but that does not mean that there is no sense of progression from volume to volume. The first book, A Lie About My Father, is, perhaps, the rawest, the most direct and, in some respects, the most conventional of the three. As the title indicates, its primary focus is upon Burnside’s father, and, initially, it might seem to conform to the stereotypes of miserabilist autobiography. Burnside’s childhood certainly seems to have been grim and wretched. He was born in Dunfermline, in West Fife – where his first home was infested with vermin and eventually condemned as unfit for human habitation. From there, his family was moved to a drab prefab settlement in Cowdenbeath – about twenty miles north of Edinburgh. This detached Burnside’s mother from the community in which she had grown up, but it was near a wood and open fields – which were to give ample scope for the author’s burgeoning imagination. Burnside’s father emerges as the dominant character in the first volume of these memoirs ‑ an alcoholic, a compulsive liar and a man for whom – in the author’s striking phrase ‑ “cruelty was an ideology”. Although he terrorised his family, he was in fact seldom violent towards them. Instead, he was “one of those men who sit in a room, and you can feel … the sense of some unpredictable force that might, at any moment, break loose and do something terrible”. Burnside believes his father may even have thought cruelty to be in his son’s best long-term interests: “Men had to be hard to get through life, there was no room for weakness or sentiment.” Viewed from his father’s perspective, a real man was one who was defined by “the pain he could shrug off, [and] the warmth or comfort he could deny himself”. In this context, any signs of Burnside’s creative imagination were, for his father, merely “signs of weakness”. When Burnside was around six, his father uprooted the family to move to Birmingham. By then…

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