Once, on a winter's night many years ago, after a heavy snow, the devil passed through the Scottish fishing town of Coldhaven, leaving a trail of dark hoofprints across the streets and roofs of the sleeping town. Michael Gardiner has lived in Coldhaven all his life, but still feels like an outsider, a blow-in. Now living in self-imposed exile out on the point, Michael feels at one with the sea-birds and the changing light of this ancient landscape - yet more distant than ever from the dark, closed community of the villagers. But that is about to change. When Moira Birnie decides that her abusive husband is the devil and then kills herself and her two young sons, a terrible chain of events begins. Michael's infatuation with the fourteen-year-old Hazel takes him on a journey towards a defined fate, where he is forced to face his present and then, finally, his past. Having confronted his own demons he must return, walking in penance and penitence, to be reborn into a world where he was always a stranger.
Written with the exquisite clarity and power of a folktale, "The Devil's Footprints" is the story of a man trying to come to terms with a suspended life, and the fear, guilt and unbearable grief that mark it. Revealing what lies beneath the surface of the everyday world, John Burnside has written a novel of mysterious and terrifying beauty - as primal and thrilling as cloven hooves in the snow.
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(223mm x 142mm x 19mm)
Jonathan Cape Ltd
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Country of Publication:
US Kirkus Review »
A quasi-mystery that spends too much time within the mind of the uninteresting first-person narrator.The Scottish-born Burnside (A Lie About My Father: A Memoir, 2007, etc.) returns to his native land with a plot that suggests the presence of the devil in an isolated seaside village, while leaving the identity of that devil open-ended. Protagonist Michael Gardiner sets the plot in motion when he learns of the suicide of a woman he dated as a teenager. The woman, Moira Birnie, set her car ablaze with her young children inside. Curiously, she left behind her 14-year-old daughter Hazel. Michael suspects that Moira killed her children and herself to escape her devil of a husband, Tom. But why has she spared Hazel? After doing his calendar calculations, Michael suspects that Hazel isn't Tom's daughter, but his own. Since Michael's marriage is all but dead, and most of the marriages in the village seem as troubled as Moira and Tom's apparently was, Michael's obsession with Hazel provides new life (at least in his mind) for the two of them. Yet in the novel's evocation of Lolita, there's something a little creepy in the way that Hazel becomes his life's focus. Within the yo-yo of the novel's chronology (as Michael spends more time living in the past than the present), the reader learns that the Gardiners have long endured an adversary relationship with the rest of the village, that Michael and his parents have kept fatal secrets from each other and that Michael has a history of both sleepwalking and dreaming a parallel reality that he sometimes has trouble distinguishing from his waking one. With Michael's insistence that he's losing his mind as the novel progresses, it becomes harder for the reader to distinguish what's really happening. And whether the fault lies with the novelist or his protagonist, none of the characters that Michael describes seem fully formed.The novel ultimately ties some knots but leaves too many strands loose. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - John Burnside
John Burnside is amongst the most acclaimed writers of his generation. His novels, short stories, poetry and memoirs have won numerous awards, including the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the Whitbread Poetry Award, the Encore Award and the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year. In 2011 he became only the second person to win both the Forward and T. S. Eliot Prizes for poetry for the same book, Black Cat Bone. In 2015 he was a judge for the Man Booker Prize. He is a Professor in the School of English at St Andrews University.