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I wrote a review some time back of an anthology of poems by Scottish poet Norman MacCaig. This book is about the fulfilling of a last request in his honour. Poet and novelist Andrew Greig got to know MacCaig through a piece of fan mail at the age of seventeen, having sent some of his own poems to MacCaig by way of a "thank you" for the inspiration of the great poet's work. An invitation to meet up followed from this, and there grew a long friendship as they found that they both knew and loved the same particular area of north west Scotland - Lochinver, Assynt and Suilven, and the complex and beautiful landscape between.
The Loch of the Green Corrie is a part of that landscape, and one of MacCaig's most precious places. His request was that Greig should go and catch a fish for him from the loch. This book tells the story of that geographical journey, but also of the journeys of people whose lives intersected with either MacCaig's or the author, while also telling the geological and social history of the area.
The book is divided into the four days of the fishing trip in 2000, with each day divided into its own chapters. These days are book-ended by an initial introduction ("The Charge is Laid"), and the account of a return trip that the author made alone in 2008 ("A Late Return"). The first trip, however, was made with two friends, two brothers, who had also known MacCaig well. They camped by the Loch when they had eventually tracked it down, which was a task in itself. The author intersperses their adventures with his own reflections on the brothers' very different lives, both before and since the quest, and his own life story so far.
His prose is very poetic - I haven't yet read any of his poems, apart from one which is included as a tribute to MacCaig, but the influence of his mentor was very clear as I read, partly in some turns of phrase, and partly in the descriptions. The older poet was probably best known for his appreciation of the natural world, from the highest mountains to the smallest bird, and his verbal portraits of them were full of details that could only have been had though years of observation. That Greig shared MacCaig's great love for the outdoors and that particular part of Scotland is manifestly clear. His writing isn't poetic in the flowery sense though - don't be put off. It's very easy to read, perfectly informative and fascinating.
For me it's particularly interesting since he visited and references places that occur frequently in MacCaig's poems, so this book acts almost as a guide book at times, to both places and people. In fact, it inspired me to go and look for the places that are mentioned and mark them on a map so that I could get a better idea of where he was talking about as I was reading. This has now led to me going through the big anthology and making an expanded version with the actual places named in the poems!
I approached this book initially expecting it to be mostly about a fishing trip with a few additional anecdotes. What I got was a travelogue, autobiography, memorial, and a geological and social history document, with the fishing trip accounts almost being incidental. It is a very interesting and absorbing book, and a must for any fan of Norman MacCaig as it explains and expands on some of his contemporaries, as well as some of the people mentioned in his poetry. I have enjoyed and appreciated it very much and will definitely be reading it again, as well as occasionally dipping into it when I read the poems to clarify who was who and what was where. I recommend this too as a fascinating travelogue / autobiography (travelography?) even if you have no interest in the poetic side, but love the northwest of Scotland. If you want to know if they caught the fish, then you'll have to find your own copy!
At the Loch of the Green Corrie
Published by Quercus, 2010. My paperback edition 2011, 324 pages.
RRP £8.99, I bought it on Amazon for 1p plus postage.