18 November 2020, The Tablet

Longing, love and loss


Longing, love and loss
 

Grimoire
ROBIN ROBERTSON
(PICADOR, 80 PP, £14.99)
Tablet bookshop price £13.49 • tel 020 7799 4064

Robin Robertson’s (pictured) Grimoire – “a handbook for invoking spirits” – taps into something ancient, like all the best stories. In this beautifully spare and distilled poetic form, however, these new Scottish folk tales rise from the page like the supernatural beings they give voice to, and stay with you because they seem to come from inside, or from the edge of a dream, or a childhood story you don’t quite remember but can’t shake off. They are disconcerting and weirdly exciting, because they don’t moralise, compromise or explain.

One of the most haunting stories, “At Roane Head”, is narrated by a selkie – a mythological seal who can take human form. The selkie’s lover bore him four sons, “each one wrong”, and her human husband leaves her, eventually returning in a drunken rage to kill the beautiful boys who were “as blank as air”. The poetic and narrative economy of the final stanza is truly chilling:

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