An Aran Keening
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ISBN: 1 901866 63 7
Publication Date: March 2001
Physical Copy (supplied by Lilliput Press)
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'McNeillie's prose can be as pristine and effervescent as the sea's edge on a summer beach. Sometimes it is loaded with biblical and Shakespearean fragments like Aran's winter tides glinting with torn bits of seaweed. So there is no end to the making of books on Aran. Fortunately, good writing feeds its subject, rather than feeding off it and Aran is once again a larger place than it was.' - Tim Robinson, Irish Times
'An utterly absorbing book about being solitary and a little lonely in a solitary and lonely place, about being an outsider in a place that was itself an outsider. The sense of sadness permeates the book. It makes the observations on the place and the strange community which he encountered all the more beguiling.' - Harry McGee, Sunday Tribune
'McNeillie becomes a tragi-comic genius when recording the oddities of the few humans he encounters on the island. Never sentimental, always entertaining and exquisitely written, An Aran Keening draws you into its rigorous world with the twin embrace of tenderness and wit.' - Sunday Business Post
'McNeillie's writing is beautiful, the poetic style of this memoir and his philosophical musings on life make this a book to linger over.' - Irish Examiner
'An Aran Keening marks out and occupies its own territory, it caught me in its spell.' - Tom Paulin
'An Aran Keening effortlessly attracts the reader with its sharp self-assessment and rueful comedy, but above all with its intelligent and considered evocation of creatures and weather and a community living on the edge of the world.' - John Fuller
In November 1968, at the age of twenty-two, Andrew McNeillie left his job and his girlfriend in Wales and travelled to Inishmore. He was not a tourist: he stayed eleven months in Aran, living alone in a tiny house. An Aran Keening is a richly lyrical memoir of that time, a celebration of the island and its people, a lament for a way of life that was infused with a deep sadness then and that no longer exists.
Based closely on a contemporary journal and on letters home - which are quoted at length, and which show the author to have been an immensely gifted young writer - An Aran Keening tells of a time before electricity and landing strips, a time of true poverty for many. Island life was, in both mind and body, more stark and dramatic then than now; it stood closer to the candle- and horse-powered nineteenth century than to the digitized twenty-first. McNeillie fished and trapped for his food - his accounts of his methods are among the most dazzling passages in the book - and writes with great love, but without a trace of romanticism, about the natural world of Aran. With extraordinary sensitivity and subtlety, he recounts the awkward, sometimes fraught, but ultimately enriching interactions between the green outsider he was and the people of Inishmore, and the islanders' tragic internal struggles.
An Aran Keening commemorates both the immortality of youth, in all its courage, folly and quick tenderness of heart, and the passing of a world. It is a singular addition to the literature of Aran and, in this age of two-a-penny memoirs, one of the finest works in that genre to come out of these islands in recent decades.
Andrew McNeillie is Literature Publisher for Blackwell in Oxford. He was born and raised in North Wales and began his working life, after a year at university, as a news reporter in South Wales. Following his sojourn on Inishmore he read English at Magdalen College, Oxford. His collection of poems Nevermore, in the Oxford Poets series, was published by Carcanet in 2000.