Book Review: Hame by Annalena McAfee
Hame is a book I happened upon thanks to the publisher Vintage tweeting about it on St Andrew’s Day last year. The Scottish island setting and a literary trail in search of a mysterious poet really appealed to me and it seems only fitting to post my review of it on St Andrew’s Day, one year on. Here’s what it’s about:
Hame, n. Scottish form of ‘home’: a valued place regarded as a refuge or place of origin
In the wake of the breakdown of her relationship, Mhairi McPhail dismantles her life in New York and moves with her 9-year-old daughter, Agnes, to the remote Scottish island of Fascaray. Mhairi has been commissioned to write a biography of the late Bard of Fascaray, Grigor McWatt, a cantankerous poet with an international reputation.
But who was Grigor McWatt? Details of his past – his tough childhood and his war years as a commando – are elusive, and there is evidence of a mysterious love affair which Mhairi is determined to investigate. As she struggles to adapt to her new life, and put her own troubled past behind her, Mhairi begins to unearth the astonishing secret history of the poet regarded by many as the custodian of Fascaray’s – and Scotland’s – soul.
I read this as an ebook but got hold of a copy of the hardback when it came out and wish I’d read it in hardback or even waited for the paperback to come out, for the simple reason that I prefer the amount of white space those two formats often provide around the text. Something which is important here, when the book contains so many of Grigor McWatt’s poems, as it helps to form a useful and marked break between the biographer Mhairi’s work and the poet’s own memoirs.
Including the poems contributed to my enjoyment of the book. It was fun to try and read them aloud, and then work out what they were saying before checking the source or inspiration behind it. I didn’t read many of the longer poems in their entirety, though, and have to confess that I skipped most later sections once the novelty had worn off.
Mhairi McPhail embarks on some literary detective work, and another aspect of Hame which I relished was in trying to put the pieces together and solve the enigma that is Grigor McWatt before his biographer did.
As the story of this loner bard, who is most well known for a popular song it irked him to hear being sung in his presence, is revealed, Annalena McAfee looks at the theme of identity and what it is to belong to people and places. Why we are drawn to some but repelled by others. Hame also meshes fiction with real events and people from Scotland’s past, which sometimes led me to google and check who was real and who was fictional.
There’s a great deal to like about Hame: the island setting, the characters, the ways in which mother and daughter adjust to their new home, or don’t, the use of real people and events as a backdrop and to lend veracity to the characters and setting, and the underlying themes of identity and belonging. Hame is as much of a rascal as its elusive bard, and well worth a wee look.
Hame by Annalena McAfee is published by Vintage, an imprint of Penguin UK. It is available as an audiobook, ebook, in hardback or paperback from Amazon UK, Audible UK, or Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop). You can read an extract from the book here or listen to an audio sample on the Audible site here.
My thanks to the publisher for providing me with an early copy via NetGalley.
*GIVEAWAY* I have one paperback copy of Hame. Leave a comment below to be in with the chance of winning it!