McGuinness, P. (2014) Other People’s Countries – A Journey into Memory Vintage ISBN 978 0 099 58703 3
The Random House publicity blurb for Patrick McGuinness’s wonderful ‘Other People’s Countries – A Journey into Memory’ accurately describes the book as:
…disarming, eloquent and illuminating, this meditation on place, time and memory, could only have been written by a poet, or a novelist, or a professor. Happily, Patrick McGuinness is all three, and Other People’s Countries is a marvel: a stunning piece of lyrical writing, rich in narrative and character – full of fresh ways of looking at how we grow up, how we start to make sense of the world. […]
Outwardly a book of short stories, told by the author to his children, about the Belgian border town of Bouillon (where his mother came from, and where he’s been going three times a year since he was a child) might not seem the most promising premise for a book but eccentric, charming, alert and affectionate, this is a book full of curiosity and humour, Other People’s Countries has all the depth and complexity of its central subject – memory – and is an unfashionably distilled, resonant book that’s both unusual and exquisite.
John Banville in the Guardian Review calls McGuinness’s style ‘uniquely poetical matter-of-factness and exactitude’
And that’s just what it is, in a series of affectionate but sharply observed vignettes, he peel away layers of memory and explores his own character and identity through uncovering and at time re-appropriating the complex, remarkable/unremarkable life of this small town.
This ‘journey into memory’ is a playful reinvention of memoire, the short, self-contained, narratives accumulate, they form a sustained and vivid meditation on the nature of memory and of past time.
John Banville put it so well in his review
“McGuinness is a marvellous writer – literally, his book is filled with marvels”. I’ve just read this through a second time and it is a book that grows with re-reading. Meditative, evocative, poignant and uplifting in equal measure. Quietly brilliant and highly recommended.”
This is a perhaps surprisingly moving book, a remarkable, accessible meditation on place, memory and the importance and difficulty of that slippery term “belonging”.
As Will Burn’s states, in a poetic review on the Caught by the River website:
In this hypnotic book, McGuinness has found a different kind of wiring to that which the city (ever growing, ever more bland, ever more commodifying) demands, it is the wiring of an old house, an old telephone on the wall the only means of communicating beyond the bend in the river.
As Mc Guinness says himself, ‘Less is not always more; sometimes it’s everything.’