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Beside the Ocean of Time
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Beside the Ocean of Time

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  146 ratings  ·  16 reviews
In this novel set on the fictitious island of Norday in the Orkneys, George Mackay Brown beckons us into the imaginary world of the young Thorfinn Ragnarson, the son of a crofter. In his day-dreams he relives the history of this island people, travelling back in time to join Viking adventurers at the court of the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople, then accompanying a Fal...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published September 28th 1994 by Bayeux Arts (first published January 1st 1994)
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Thorfinn Ragnarson is well-known on the Orkney island of Norday as a lazy, idle and useless boy, who spends his time day-dreaming. But in fact, Thorfinn is imagining the history and future of his island and its people in this lovely book that dips engagingly between the more recent past (the 1930s of Thorfinn’s journey to adulthood) and the distant past that encompasses a Viking voyage to Byzantium. Like Vinland, Beside the Ocean of Time is suffused with George Mackay Brown’s love for and close...more
Nothing really beats the beautiful way that George Mackay Brown put words together. There's a quote on the back of the book: "If an aspiring writer came to me and asked me how to tell a story, plot a book, round a character, make dialogue sing and whisper and bellow, I would say: Read George Mackay Brown." (Peter Tinniswood). In many ways, Mr Tinniswood absolutely nails it (how GMB describes the land, the sea, the weather: be still my heart) - however it's the 'plot a book' that borders on the d...more
Monthly Book Group
This book wins my award for the most alluring title of all our books so far. Yes, time is a kind of ocean in which we all drown, metaphorically speaking. Of course, George Mackay Brown is an author who uses metaphors and symbols beautifully, as befits a poet. To quote from one of his poems:

In the fire of images

Gladly I put my hand.

The writing, in one sense (the best sense) is naïve: he seldom uses big words or elaborate sentences, and the plots are never complex. In this book the chapters are f...more
This one was different. Different in form, technique, and subject matter. The writing was good. Lyrical, poetic. But sometimes those flights of fancy got too carried away.
The story of a boy who his Orkney island village describes as “Lazy, idle, and useless.” Sound familiar?
I liked the boy but the portrait of the village life got dangerously close to the over idealization of the peasants tolstoy espoused. There were occasional glimpses of the village life as squalid, ugly, and sordid.
I enj...more
If the Orkney Isles were an independent nation (don't laugh; some Orcadians still think of their little archipelago as separate from Scotland, though it's more than 600 years since Scotland bought them from Norway) -- if the Orkneys were a nation, George Mackay Brown would be its national bard. A poet, essayist, journalist, playwright, short story writer and novelist, Brown published some 50 books before his death in 1996. In prose, it seems to me his preferred form is short stories, and this no...more
Jim Knight
Everyone should visit the wonderful Orkney islands. And when they do they should read this book. It is simply written and knits together much of the stories of these islands in an engaging way.
This book was hard to get into, mainly because the story took the form of mini-stories, but not until the end did I learn the meaning. The whole beginning is used to make a point that technology can be harmful and that old generations need to get used to things slowly. A dreamer, Thorfinn becomes a very stable, though poor, man who writes what he dreams. A point that becomes apparent with each new tale is that nothing will last, all is but a memory and will soon be forgotten. This hard reality i...more
The novel is centered on a boy called Thorfinn Ragnarson, a daydreaming son of a crofter on the fictional island of Norday in the (non fictional) Orkney Isles off the north coast of Scotland, where the author was born and lived most of life. It’s Scottish in tone, somewhat poetical in rhythm, drawing on Scottish history both ancient and modern and the mythology of the region. It’s a chronicle of the islands but also partly about literature, how a writer combines knowledge, skill and the ‘innocen...more
Carolyn Phelps
The story of a Thorfinn, a daydreaming boy everyone was sure would amount to nothing. Alternating between his current life and flights of fancy, this was a very satisfying book. It gives us a slice of Scottish life prior to and following WWII. I found the ending very satisfying.
Kevin Albrecht
Beautiful and simple short novel. Nearly perfect.
Stuart Macbeath
Historical narrative at its finest. Encompassing a huge range of Scottish events, this story paints a picture of Orkney's position during them.
Felicity Teasdale
Another one which started well and went odd towards the end. About a dreamy boy living in Orkney and the stories he tells himself.
Manda Graham
Sorry didn't really do it for me but then I don't like magical realism and it's a bit fantastical in places.
This book was a lovely, quaint little thing. Lovely!
Aine MacAodha
Great writer love his descriptions of Orkney!
Mythically magical.
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George Mackay Brown, the poet, novelist and dramatist, spent his life living in and documenting the Orkney Isles.

A bout of severe measles at the age of 12 became the basis for recurring health problems throughout his life. Uncertain as to his future, he remained in education until 1940, a year which brought with it a growing reality of the war, and the unexpected death of his father. The followin...more
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