A Summer of Drowning by John Burnside

Imagine yourself walking through a mysterious, magical forest. While walking through it you know something is luring from the dark, waiting to strike, but you’re not really able to mind due to the calming effect of the enchanting world around you. This is the feeling you get while reading John Burnside’s ‘A Summer of Drowning’.

This book tells about the life of a girl named Liv, who lives with her mother on an island in the Arctic circle. Liv herself is the narrator of the story and she tells about the summer when she was eighteen years old. During this summer her quiet life is disturbed by some strange, and slightly frightening events, supposedly caused by the mysterious and dangerous creatures of the north..

Though this might sound very exciting, the amount of action in the book is actually rather small. It rather focusses on Liv’s thoughts and what she sees, than on the events happening around her. But still, the book can’t be called boring. For the detailed thoughts of the narrator and beautiful descriptions of the Norwegian landscapes make the book seem so real, even the tiniest event will make you shiver.

Apart from amazing descriptions, strange events and mysterious creatures, two other things that amazed me were the complicated relationships and the intriguing behavior of the main characters. For example Angelika, Liv’s mother,  won’t or can’t attach herself to other human beings, but she did knowingly keep her child and decided to raise it. And Liv, an eighteen year old girl that is almost as much of a recluse as her mother,  keeps spying on people but doesn’t intend to connect with them.

It’s hard to choose the best part of the book, the things that are written down or the way they are written down. Because the descriptive, almost hypnotic writing style was something that struck me. This unique writing style is probably caused by the fact that, originally John Burnside wasn’t a novelist but a poet.

Though he has won several prizes for both his poetry ad his novels, not everyone was that impressed by his previous novels.

‘Although it sounded interesting to me, I initially decided to skip it because the previous “Burnside novels” I’d read I was less than taken with.’

But after the appearance of ‘A Summer of Drowning’ the general opinion changed and it was decided that John Burnside wasn’t just a brilliant poet, but also a remarkable novelist.

Although I do agree on the fact that he is a very capable novelist, there’s something else I strongly disagree  with. And that is the opinion that ‘A Summer of drowning’ is ‘a disturbing and provocative book’ and it would contain ‘madness and myth-making collide’.

The book may be interesting enough, but it really isn’t the breathtaking, scary, fantasy thriller other people choose to call it. The atmosphere in the book is just too calm for it to be that.

Not that I mind that much, I really did enjoy reading the book and I would recommend it to anyone who can handle a little bit of tediousness and who appreciates this poetic writing style.


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