Books by John Burnside

THE GLISTER by John Burnside
Released: March 10, 2008

"A truly unusual experience awaits readers willing to forgo the obvious pleasures of the genre."
What begins as a spooky tale of serial murder evolves into something much stranger and riskier—an eschatological fable about innocence, evil and personal responsibility. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 22, 2008

"The novel ultimately ties some knots but leaves too many strands loose."
A quasi-mystery that spends too much time within the mind of the uninteresting first-person narrator. Read full book review >
A NORMAL SKIN by John Burnside
Released: March 1, 1998

With five poetry volumes and a novel (The Dumb House, 1997) to his credit, this Scottish-born writer continues to explore the darkness within the natural world and the difficulties in human relations. Burnside scatters the effluvia and offal of animal and insect throughout his homely poems about weasels, rats, foxes, and —road kill.— Searching for —order— and —reason—, he marvels at a woman's handling of a dead snake (—Snake—); an owl released from netting reminds him of a difficult separation of his own, as does hitting a deer with his car on a dark road (—A Process of Separation—). Confronting loss—of his father, of his own —difficult and unrelenting love——the poet sees angels and ghosts but dismisses them as vapors. Occasionally insightful (in poems such as —Agoraphobia— and —Simon of Cyrene—), Burnside's mostly drab observations more often take a nihilistic turn—he's somber, when not just morbid. Read full book review >
THE DUMB HOUSE by John Burnside
Released: Jan. 1, 1998

An adenoidally creepy, affecting debut about one man's mad hunt for the origins of language and the soul. Scottish poet Burnside's bravura performance has everything to do with preeminence of tone. He's a master of the art of establishing persuasive personal atmospherics, based here on the voice of Luke, the precociously anomic and amoral first-person narrator. Effectively orphaned from society on a secluded rural estate in Britain, Luke has been headily influenced by his remote, beautiful mother and left indifferent to his anonymous father, not encouraged by either, while they were living, to consider himself as real kin of anybody. Estranged and yet entitled, he never doubts that he lives at the center of a world. Perhaps as a result, the nature of communication obsesses him. He's fascinated, for instance, by the legend of the Moghul King Akbar's ``Dumb House,'' where chosen children of the empire were sequestered from infancy on, cared for by mute adults and observed to determine whether speech was an inborn or acquired skill. (The conclusion: Acquired.) Appalled by the behavior of the humanity lurking on his own distant periphery and yet seduced by the idea that we may possess a redemptive spirit nonetheless, Luke wants ``to know the soul,'' and so sets out to reproduce Akbar's experiment on a more modest scale at home. The novel successfully raises Luke from the realm of morbid thrill-seeking to the more poignant role of artist gone wrong. Playing god in a series of cruel physical and metaphysical exploits, he recruits humans into his lair but is never himself humanized. The flaw is that all the people here rarely seem wholly real; they live (and perish) in a vaporous, unhappy epic of inflamed and narrowing sky. Still, Burnside's poetry urges us with remarkably few misgivings into his story, which seizes hold of readers like a virus. Read full book review >