Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Long Delirious Burning Blue by Sharon Blackie

Part of Mother’s Day Week on Vulpes: a week of items on the themes of mothers and motherhood

Mothers and daughters …

Our relationship with our mother colours and shapes our whole life. When it works, it’s life enhancing. When it doesn’t … the repercussions can travel with us to the grave.

Laura tried to obliterate the pain and disappointment of her life with alcohol and men and forgetfulness. Finally shocked into sobriety, she buries herself in a remote cottage on the shores of a Scottish sea loch. Once a writer of children’s stories, her mind is blocked and her imagination crushed. She can write nothing and can see no further than the end of each grey winter’s day. She is aging and tired and hopeless.

Cat, her daughter, deals with her memories by disconnecting her emotions and travelling to the other end of the climatic scale, to the mountains and deserts of the American south-west.

Long-suppressed emotions however have a way of crawling out of the dark places in which they hide and attacking us in unexpected ways. Cat – trapped in a job that doesn’t interest her and a relationship that is safe, convenient and empty – begins to have panic attacks every time she has to board an aircraft. A friend’s suggestion that she conquers her fears by learning to fly eventually leads her to her local airfield and a single-engined Cessna.

Back in Scotland, Laura also has a friend – a fellow storyteller – who persuades her to write down her own life story in the hope of exorcising her demons. As Laura begins to write about herself, a parallel tale starts to take shape in her long-dormant writers’ brain – that of a selkie whose seal skin is hidden by her human lover so that she cannot return to her natural home, the sea.

At the same time, Cat takes to the air, in spite of her near-paralysing terror. Then, the brown envelopes containing her mother’s life history begin to land on her doormat …

It’s almost impossible to believe that The Long Delirious Burning Blue, published by Two Ravens Press, is a first novel. Sharon Blackie’s spare but elegant prose style seems to belong to a far more experienced writer. She evokes both the seared beauty of the desert landscapes and the rain-soaked mystery of the Scottish mountains with equal skill, weaving them into the fabric of the story, as Laura weaves the story of the selkie into her own life. They are not just the setting for the story, but an integral part of it.

The psychological and emotional journeys of both women are observed and told with an unsentimental but sympathetic accuracy which makes The Long Delirious Burning Blue compulsively readable. We share Cat’s tumultuous thoughts as she faces her fears in the little Cessna, and walk with Laura through the messy hell of her remembered life.

It is not, for all that, a depressing novel and ultimately has much to say about the importance of friendship, emotional honesty and forgiveness – and the inherent ability we all have to alter the course of our own lives.

This is an astoundingly accomplished novel which will live on in your mind long after you’ve read the final paragraph.

Oh – and that title? It’s a quotation from the poem High Flight by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, who died in 1941 at the age of 19:

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew —

Two Ravens Press. Paperback. 376pp. ISBN-10: 190612017X. ISBN-13: 978-1906120177.

(Vulpes interviewed Sharon Blackie in February and you can find the interview here.)

 

7 comments on “The Long Delirious Burning Blue by Sharon Blackie

  1. rosyb
    March 7, 2008

    Enjoyed reading that and sounds very interesting…although I was less sure about the Selkie bit. Not sure from what you say how that fits in. Can you explain a bit more or would that give away too many spoilers?

    I do like the idea of flying as a theme and with a woman learning to pilot this seems a very original idea to me. I was wondering after reading the piece at the end if there are any novels about those who flew in the wars…

  2. Mhairi
    March 7, 2008

    Explaining the selkie story in too much detail would give away a bit too much Rosy … Suffice it to say that Laura is likening herself to the selkie, with her true identity stolen …

  3. rosyb
    March 7, 2008

    Here’s a link to Lizzie Siddal’s review of this book, which I thought was very interesting too.

    http://lizzysiddal.wordpress.com/2008/02/14/the-long-delirious-burning-blue-sharon-blackie/

  4. Pingback: Publisher Feature: Two Ravens Press « Vulpes Libris

  5. sequinonsea
    March 8, 2008

    Brilliant review, Mhairi. I know Sharon will be thrilled! She also had a glowing review in The Scotsman, which compared TLDBB to The English Patient!

    http://living.scotsman.com/books/Soaring-above-doubt.3808436.jp

  6. Jackie
    March 11, 2008

    Oooh a Ralph Fiennes reference, heh, heh.
    I thought the title was poetic and now I see why. What a perfect connection. The cover art is evocative, too. Nice presentation.
    Your review certainly makes this one enticing, M. The themes of strong women, the past, and coming to grips with things would be of great interest to me, and I’m sure, others. I thought I remembered the title from the interview, too.

  7. Pingback: Happy Birthday to Us! « Vulpes Libris

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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