John Burnside

John Burnside is a Scottish novelist, poet and professor of English at the University of St Andrews.

A magical epic: Moon Witch, Spider King, by Marlon James, reviewed

When the first volume of Marlon James’s Dark Star trilogy appeared in 2019, it was quickly recognised as a masterly work of fantasy fiction, drawing comparisons with Tolkien, Angela Carter and Beowulf. Part quest narrative, part picaresque, Black Leopard, Red Wolf follows a man named Tracker as he weaves a trail through various lands, encountering

Back to basics | 1 August 2019

Anyone picking up a book by Wendell Berry, whether it be fiction, essays or a collection of his lucid and engaged poetry, will quickly find themselves in the company of one who is unafraid to tackle the larger subjects (time, place, environment, community) in terms familiar to Virginia Woolf’s ‘common reader’, a creature who seems

Evil under the sun

When James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential appeared in 1990, it introduced us to a world of blatant corruption, casual racism and routine police brutality that, a year before anybody ever heard of Rodney King, might have seemed fanciful to some. Set in the early 1950s, the novel was a landmark in neo-noir writing, in which historical

An epic quest

Anyone who has issues with Tolkien (at 16, even in a suitably ‘altered state’, I could not finish The Hobbit, never mind The Lord of the Rings), anyone who falls asleep while watching a tedious Joseph Campbell-formula flick such as Star Wars, anyone saddened by the 2014 BBC poll of adult readers that included six

Short and bitter-sweet

The death of Denis Johnson last May marked the loss of a great original who catalogued the lives of junkies, social misfits and minor criminals from an insider’s perspective — which is not surprising, considering his own history of drug and alcohol abuse. Certainly his most celebrated work, the hilarious yet profoundly moving story collection,

The saddest show on earth

It’s the early 20th century, and two strange-looking boys, purportedly twins named Iko and Eko, are playing in a circus band in one of the many stopovers on the freak-show circuit running from Ohio to Texas. The brothers are ghostly pale, with thick white dreadlocks and red eyes — natural albinos who, when they are

Thirtysomething blues

If ever there was a book for our uncaring, unsharing times, it is Gwendoline Riley’s First Love, in which Neve, a woman in her mid-thirties, struggles with a truly awful family and with the men in her life, while trying to make a career as a writer. That latter point might suggest some kind of

A matter of life and death | 20 October 2016

Shades of The Master and Margarita haunt Rabih Alameddine’s sixth book, in which Jacob, a Yemeni-born poet with a day job in IT, battles with drugs, insanity, visions of the Devil and a variety of Christian saints while trying to come to terms with the fallout from the Aids crisis. As that crisis wore on,