Review of The Burrymen War by Brendan Gisby

burrymenThe latest from the pen of Brendan Gisby does not disappoint.  I loved his ‘The Bookie’s Runner’ which was a sort of fact meets fiction biography of his father.  Reading it broke my heart just a little and I really wanted to read more.  Gisby writes in many different styles, and is impossible to categorise (one reason he may not have found mainstream success) and so despite have read many more of his works – from short story collections to novels – nothing quite hit the spot reached by ‘The Bookie’s Runner’ (which is not to say that I ever finish reading a Gisby work without having enjoyed them. Just in different ways). With ‘The Burrymen War’ I found the ‘missing link’ from ‘The Bookie’s Runner.’  While The Burrymen is more obviously fictionalised (the central character is half Asian half Catholic) it still carries the trademark honesty of Brendan Gisby’s strongest work.  You feel the heart in it.  But this is altogether a darker story than ‘The Bookie’s Runner.’

Let me put it this way. When I was a student in Fife, there was one (and only one) pub I wouldn’t go into in town.  Having read ‘The Burrymen War’, I’m glad I never did. Because this pub was the hang out of the kind of men that populate ‘The Burrymen War’. Not a place for a philosophy student to casually drop into expecting a high level debate. Not a place student life in all its unreality would be appreciated. A place where real life is lived.  The setting of ‘The Burrymen War’ is a hard-edged, gritty place. Small town prejudice abounds but Brendan Gisby paints this with the authenticity and dare one say love, that only one who had grown up in such surroundings could. Love may be a strange word to use when there is so much hatred in the book, but if you read it you’ll understand what I mean.  You can’t write honestly without imparting emotion and you can’t write emotionally (even about hatred) without love being a part of it.  We are not talking romantic love here. We are talking something much deeper. Love as a sense of self in community and despair as an isolation from and loss of community.

I don’t know of the history of the ‘real’ Burryman, so I can’t speculate on where fact and fiction diverge, but I can tell you that this is a totally convincing fiction.  Set in The Ferry (where so much of Gisby’s work is set) it is reminiscent of the ‘real’ life 1980’s Glasgow Ice Cream Wars. But with an East Coast flavour.

Don’t let me give you the idea it’s unrelentingly grim. There are many moments of humour within it. You feel at times that the central characters are like a latter day Guy Fawkes gang, hapless and doomed to failure – and yet, in one sense they succeed. The ‘plot’ is cleverly constructed and keeps the story running along. You care what happens to the characters and however alien their world is, they draw you into it. Not just as a voyeur but as an accessory.  But the dark side is always there.

Gisby is an accomplished storyteller who uses structure and ‘voice’ in interesting ways throughout his work.  In ‘The Burrymen War’ the retrospective narrator is Gisby at his absolute best – looking at a past with the benefit of hindsight – and the insight this brings constructs the meaning of that past and contexualises it for the reader while keeping both time frames vividly alive.

‘The Bookie’s Runner’ was a great wee story. Like a Chinese meal it left me wanting more, and ‘The Burrymen War’ completed the meal.  The meal analogy is too tame. It was more like a love affair ended too soon.  After which you cast around for something to make you feel the same way again. ‘The Burrymen War’ made me feel everything I felt in ‘The Bookie’s Runner’ but in a more ‘grown up’ way.  It’s too simplistic to say that ‘The Burrymen War’ completes the space left by ‘The Bookie’s Runner’ because it’s quite a different story but underneath  I still feel strongly that it’s part of the same thing. Part of Gisby’s explanation of the world he’s lived in.  His narrative stance/s in all his works provide a fascinating insight into the man as author and the world as he sees it.  And he times the stories to perfection. Each book is precisely the length they should be and together they seem to provide a completeness.  To fully understand what I mean you’d have to read both of them. I hope you do.

You can get hold of The Burrymen War as an ebook or as a paperback.

I guess you could read it first then read The Bookie’s Runner. But since Brendan prices his work FAR FAR too cheaply you could pick up an ebook copy of both for less than a Starbucks coffee.  And experience a much fuller flavoured taste.  And the ‘aftertaste’ will stay with you a lot longer.  So go on. Give yourself a feast of reading. Coffee for the mind not just for the brain.

51S+7KOV8jL._AA115_The Bookie’s Runner ebook and paperback 

For more reviews from Reading between the lines 

smallREADINGAlso, note this is blog post 99, so the next one will be a special 100th POST! Coming Soon!



About callyphillips

2 Responses to Review of The Burrymen War by Brendan Gisby

  1. Ron A Sewell says:

    I once knew the ferry well. Great pubs.
    Brendan I still take a look into The Bookies Runner. Fab book.

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