Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

"The Overhaul" by Kathleen Jamie (Picador, 2012)

The book starts as it means to go on, gently paced - "Now this big westerly's/ blown itself out,/ let's drive to the storm beach.// A few brave souls/ will be there already, eyeing the driftwood". At the end of the poem "all of us// [are] hoping for the marvellous,/ all hankering for a changed life.". These sentiments are repeated in other poems - for example, in "Fragment 2" "Imagine we could begin/ all over again". The final poem's last stanza is related to the first poem - "And look at us! Out all day and damn all to show for it./ Bird-bones, rope-scraps, a cursory sketch - but a bit o' bruck's/ all we need to get us started, all we'll leave behind us when/      we're gone"

Several of the poems ponder on what to do next - after some kind of crisis, perhaps, or middle-age angst. Sometimes nature is studied, hoping for an answer. In "Halfing", an abandoned young bird is addressed. Finally "the gulls shriek Eagle!/ Eagle! - they know/ more than you/ what you'll become". In "An Avowal" an emotionally compliant bluebell's addressed. In "The Galilean Moons" the narrator wonders, as her/his children are sleeping, "what you old astronomers/ apprehended for the first time,/ bowing to the inevitable". The narrator sees through a telescope "how the moonlets glide/ out of their chance alignment, each again to describe/ around its shared host/ its own unalterable course", like children. In "Hawk and Shadow" the symbolic identification's even more explicit. The narrator watches a hawk

  • "her own dark shape/ in her talons like a kill"
  • "the shadow coursed on/ without her"
  • "Being out of sorts/ with my so-called soul, ... keeping one in sight/ while forsaking the other."
  • "The hawk gained height:// her mate on the ground/ began to fade,/ till hill and sky were empty,/ and I was afraid"

soul = shadow? Soul neglected during career climb, but soul and non-soul need each other?

The line-breaks at the start of "The Longhouse" are quite beyond me - "Who lives here? Don't/ you remember that hill? How it/ shut out any winter sun". I suppose if you're charging £9.99 for a book you need to stretch the material out somehow, by spreading short lines across 48 pages. Some poems are in Scots. The poems on pages 14, 20, 27, 28, 30 seem too light to merit inclusion. 2 poems tackle the same topic

  • "The Study" begins "Moon,// // what do you mean/entering my study ... stroking ... the books,/ the attic stair?"
  • "Moon" begins "Last night, when the moon/ slipped into my attic-room ... She pretended an interest in the bookcase"

I think there was a thematic pamphlet's worth of poetry here - deer, moon and doubts being leit-motifs. I'm surprized that this is the book of hers that won the Costa and was shortlisted for the T.S.Eliot prize.

Other reviews

  • Kate Kellaway (Observer) (The Overhaul is easy to overlook ... because although attentive, it is in no way attention-seeking. This is its power )
  • Maria Johnston (Guardian) (the self-conscious artistry of The Overhaul ... foregrounds the figurative – similes and metaphors abound – as it probes and plays out the tensions inherent in translating human experience in an unintelligible universe into verbal figures of interlaced sight- and sound-lines. ... Through this dynamic, disturbing collection, Jamie illuminates the mysterious force of poetry in our lives as an unending shadow-play of art and nature, self and soul.)
  • Stuart Kelly (The Scotsman) (Like Jamie’s previous collections, this is very much a collection: though the individual poems are in their own rights memorable, ingenious and affecting, the cumulative effect of the book’s architecture is greater than the sum of its parts.)
  • Dave (it does lack critical engagement and a willingness to question itself, or to ask significant questions about its subject matter.)
  • Dave Green (it is an excellent book, immediately and clearly accessible)

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