RaveThe Scotsman (UK)... what makes Laurie’s book so remarkable, and so profoundly enjoyable to read, is that for him, many of these decisions seem almost instinctive. He follows his heart, in choosing his patch of land, the breed of cattle he loves, and the presence of curlews as a measure of the health of the landscape; and often, it seems as though the Galloway land itself, on which his family has lived for centuries, is breathing and speaking through him, sometimes driving his prose to extraordinary heights and depths of rich, sweet lyricism. At some moments it’s hard not to think of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s heroine Chris Guthrie in Sunset Song; and his extraordinary power to conjure up in words her passionate love for the land of the Mearns, and its old farming ways ... weaves into those chapters not only a practical account of the working of the farm, and those extraordinary moments of poetry and communion, but also much reflection on the history of a region that Laurie describes as \'forgotten,\' and also the story of the profound personal sadness of childlessness, as experienced by Laurie and his wife in a farming life built around cycles of successful breeding. For all that, the book sometimes seems just a shade repetitive, as if it could have made its mark even more powerfully at a slightly shorter length ... Yet its importance is huge, setting down a vital marker in the 21st century debate about how we use and abuse the land. It reflects both the hardness and the joy of a life that nurtures the land for the long term, rather than simply raping it for profit; it warns us that even the best-intentioned policies, determined by faraway governments, can do great damage if they ignore the hard-won knowledge of past generations.
RaveThe Scotsman (UK)Mercurial is a word often used of Cumming; and the quicksilver quality of his personality and career is fully and sometimes brilliantly reflected in this memoir, which charts the ups and downs of his private life against the backdrop of a breathtakingly successful and varied working life ... The truth about Cumming, though, is that this fun-seeking surface of his life is only part of the story; and his mercurial energy also embraces journeys into a deeper and more authoritative place, where he writes thrillingly, and in a much more organised and forceful style, about the intellectual and moral journeys involved in the best of his work ... At 56, in other words, Alan Cumming, comes across as a man of real intellectual and moral substance, who often – for his own good reasons – presents himself as a bit of a showbiz airhead ... We see him in the finest chapters of this book, and in the quality of their prose. And if the next phase of Cummings’s journey involves working that substantial self into an ever more harmonious union with his trademark qualities of lightness and wit, that will be good news for his readers; and for his millions of fans around the globe.
RaveThe ScotsmanThe cover of Margaret Atwood’s new collection of poetry – taken from a recent work by British sculptor Kate MccGwire – features a great swirl of deep blue feathers, touched by tones of light grey and brown; and it’s appropriate not only because of the number of birds that appear in the 57 poems, or sequences of poems, gathered in this book, but because of the soaring quality of the verse itself, which is often dark, but always illuminated by characteristic flashes of brilliance and wit, and powered by a pure force of creative energy that sometimes feels like a mighty wind, lifting us up and shifting the ground beneath us as we read ... In her novels as in her poetry, though, there are two interwoven strands in her presence as a writer; the one sharp, committed, knowing, political and polemical, the other profoundly poetic, wedded to the ever-shifting miracle of language itself, and far more mysterious and unpredictable in its preoccupations and outcomes ... Atwood’s poetry is vibrant with purpose, brilliant, hard-edged, and instantly legible; and they will doubtless become classics of our troubled time, quoted in polemics and taught in schools ... this whole collection stands as a mighty demonstration of how great poetry can embody and celebrate the sheer vibrancy and beauty of life, in the face of the most profound sorrow and terror. Read these poems aloud, read them carefully, read them with joy and tears; savour the raw power of their rhythms and assonances, and the sheer mastery with which Atwood, at the height of her powers, transforms anger and grief into glinting beauty and brilliance.
PositiveThe Scotsman (UK)... becomes just a shade repetitive, as if the book contained one or two lives too many for its own structural strength ... comes across mainly as a light-touch fictional reworking of Haig’s thinking about how human hearts, minds and souls can recover from a depressive crisis of meaning, which robs life of all its colour and joy, and any sense of its boundless potential. The book is not elegantly written, but the story has an engaging, page-turning quality, and the dialogue is often powerful and pithy, even if Mrs Elm’s library musings sometimes smack too much of homespun philosophy, or a positive thinking manual.
MixedThe Scotsman (UK)... has many quotable quotes on every page, and is full of powerful aphorisms drawn from the history of political thought ... Bregman’s style is sometimes irritatingly chatty and repetitive, as if he were talking to someone with a limited attention-span who won’t tolerate any discourse not peppered with daft analogies and cheery personal anecdotes. The thoroughness of his demolition-job is impressive, though, as he sweeps aside example after example of the stories we tell ourselves in order to uphold the myth of our own wickedness ... In detail, its deconstructions of some of the \'truths\' we have been told about human nature are often fascinating; as riveting as any thriller, and probably deeply necessary, in trying to shift our politics onto new and more productive ground ... In outline, though, this is a long book pointing out what should, in any rational world, be absolutely obvious: that human beings can do evil, but most of the time do not; that we can seek war, but tend, in the vast majority, to prefer peace; that we are sometimes motivated by greed and self-interest, but more often by a simple need to be involved with other people, and to be liked and accepted by them.
PositiveThe Scotsman (UK)... consists of a sequence of illustrative examples and heartfelt polemics, designed to demolish the arguments of those joyless and controlling types who, throughout history, have in Shah’s view elevated their prejudice against the lively and sometimes messy dynamics of the natural and human world into a series of scientific theories often presented as fact, and designed to project a much more fixed and rigid picture of how nature and humanity \'should\' be ... [Shah\'s] contempt for those who assume that migration is a bad and threatening phenomenon, and then repeatedly bend the facts to fit that largely false conclusion, is palpable; and as a result, her book probably stands little chance of persuading those who do not already share her views ... For those of us who grasp the central truth that human beings are all part of one family, though – born to travel, to meet, to get to know one another and to intermingle – her book is a hugely entertaining, life-affirming and hopeful hymn to the glorious adaptability of life on earth. Always, the argument is threaded through with delicious descriptions of the natural world and its endless mobility, from butterflies to hungry bears. And although Shah’s arguments may not be watertight, her luminous love for this changing world is surely a far better guide, as we face an uncertain future, than the dreary fear-mongering and lies of those she condemns, sometimes without much elegance, but always with a rich measure of gaiety, humour, and hope.