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Shena MacKay

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MikeAlx  (Original Message) Sent: 10/11/2008 11:54
Her new collection of short stories, 'The Atmospheric Railway', seems to be getting glowing reviews. I've never read anything by her, though I remember seeing a review for 'The Orchard on Fire' some years back, and thinking it looked interesting.

So, anyone read anything by her, and if so what did you think?

Caro, I see she wrote a book set in NZ, 'Dunedin', without actually visiting the place - not sure what you'd make of that! (Shades of the recent 'Tenderness of Wolves' controversy).


Message 2 of 14 in Discussion  

From: i-wish-i-was Sent: 10/11/2008 14:58
Mike ~ Until a couple of weeks ago I had not heard of MacKay. Then I read a review of her novel Heligoland in the weekend papers and I  really liked the sound of it. Up to now I haven't bought it, but it has joined the list of things to look out for. A quick google suggests she is a well respected writer  

Message 3 of 14 in Discussion  

From: MikeAlx Sent: 10/11/2008 15:05
Sounds like we're in a similar boat then! Think I might give the short stories a try. Though I seem to be reading nothing but short stories at the moment.

Message 4 of 14 in Discussion  

From: KlaraZthefirst Sent: 10/11/2008 16:00
I enjoyed 'Dunedin' and 'Heligoland' very much when I read them-----'Dunedin' only has two chapters set in New Zealand, and the rest of the book is set in South London, an area that McKay makes seem very spooky (as, indeed, have other writers----and the painter Carel Weight!) She is an excellent writer.

Message 5 of 14 in Discussion  

From: Evie_again Sent: 10/11/2008 16:28
I read one about an artist's widow - I can't remember the title now - which I thought was very poor. It has put me off reading other things by her, though I know that Orchard on Fire was well received.

Message 6 of 14 in Discussion  

From: MikeAlx Sent: 10/11/2008 16:31
Thanks for that, Klara. I gather Mackay is particularly associated with Norwood and Crystal Palace - not too far from where I grew up (a little further out, in Wallington). Another writer who captured the decaying Victorian gentility of South East London perfectly was Angela Carter, in "The Magic Toyshop", and later in "Wise Children".

Message 7 of 14 in Discussion  

From: MikeAlx Sent: 10/11/2008 16:44
Evie, looks like the title was "The Artist's Widow".

"The Orchard on Fire" made the booker shortlist in 1996, and "Heligoland" (which sounds very interesting to me) made the Orange and Whitbread shortlists in 2003.

Message 8 of 14 in Discussion  

From: Evie_again Sent: 10/11/2008 16:44
I have just looked up the one I read, and the title is The Artist's Widow (!!) - and it does seem to get a lower star rating than any of her others, so it clearly wasn't a good one to start with! I picked it up in a charity shop, it was a hardback in great condition for 50p. Maybe, on recommendations here and elsewhere, I need to try another of hers before deciding she's not for me.

Message 9 of 14 in Discussion  

From: Evie_again Sent: 10/11/2008 16:45
Thanks, Mike - we were obviously posting at the same time!

Message 10 of 14 in Discussion  

From: MikeAlx Sent: 10/11/2008 16:58
I think I might find a slot for Mackay on my Christmas/Birthday list. Not that I've read last year's books yet! I will also be asking for Robert Edric's novel "In Zodiac Light", about composer/poet/soldier Ivor Gurney.

Message 11 of 14 in Discussion  

From: i-wish-i-was Sent: 10/11/2008 20:29
I have just come back from Borders and I couldn't find any MacKay books. I don't know if I was looking in the right place or what as I didn't have a great deal of time, but I was disappointed. I will try the library tomorrow and see what I can find.

Message 12 of 14 in Discussion  

From: KiwiCaro1 Sent: 16/11/2008 00:44
I read Dunedin a few years ago, Mike, and I wasn't all that impressed with it.  Maybe I was reading it expecting more realism than I got.  I can't quite remember it though, but I don't think she had any real knowledge of Dunedin the place.  People are very critical, though, about things written of places they know well.  (Not that I would say I know Dunedin all that well, but I was there for four years as a student and we visit regularly mostly for shopping, movies and eating out.)

Cheers, Caro.

Message 13 of 14 in Discussion  

From: KlaraZthefirst Sent: 17/11/2008 10:19

Shena McKay kink above. I've just ordered 'The Atmospheric Railway' from the library (may have to wait a bit---there seems to be a queue.)

Message 14 of 14 in Discussion  

From: i-wish-i-was Sent: 24/11/2008 12:29
Thanks Klara, I have now read Heligoland which I found in the library. It is only a slim book of 200 pages, so I expected to read it in a day or two but somehow it took longer. It started out well enough introducing some rather strange characters and their dysfunctional lives. The main protagonist is Rowena, an orphan of Indian/Scottish descent who becomes the housekeeper in the Nautilus building. This is a strange shell like building from the thirties built on modernist Utopian principles but now struggling to attract residents.
Towards the middle of the book I lost interest a little bit and did consider of putting it aside to start something else. Being such a short novel it seemed a bit defeatist so
I pushed on and finished it. I wouldn't say I really loved it, but did appreciate the use of language and I came across some new words, but I can't give you any examles off the top of my head and the book has been returned now! (I do intend to start keeping a list of new words I discover but have yet to begin). Shena MacKay is a sharp observer of the peculiar things which make up our everyday existence and I will be happy to read some of her other novels. I have The Orchard on Fire coming from a book swap site so will add that to the bedside pile.
Klara Z

I've just started 'The Atmospheric Railway'---and, annoyingly, I've got to take it back to the library on Tues, before I depart for a month in Oz----but I DO recommend it! Lovely writing, quirky themes, some darkly witty stuff here. Loved the 2nd and 3rd story in the book, ''Nanny' and 'Radio Gannet', lst story excellent too.

I'm reading it in fits and starts at the moment. The first story is the best so far, but I also liked 'Radio Gannet'. Wasn't over-keen on 'Nanny' - not really my sort of humour, and trying a bit too hard, I thought.

I also have 'Heligoland' waiting on the shelf.

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