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Beside the Ocean of Time [Hardcover]

Guillermo Verdecchia
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 15 1994
1994 Booker Prizeshort-listed story of Thorfinn Ragnarson's dreams re-living his birthplace

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Brown's sweet coming-of-age novel about a fantasy-prone adolescent growing up in the Orkney Islands just before WWII offers some moving passages and fine, delicate prose but is sabotaged by a paucity of plot and narrative drive. Thorfinn Ragnarson is the daydreaming son of a tenant farmer, avoiding both work and school despite the best efforts of family, friends and neighbors. Instead, the boy dreams up elaborate historical fantasies. In a series of odd yet intriguing chapters, Brown (Vinland) transforms Thorfinn into a Viking traveler, a freedom-fighter for Bonnie Prince Charlie and the colleague of a Falstaffian knight who participates in the Battle of Bannockburn. The author then hurls his protagonist into the future as Thor, who returns to the Orkneys as an adult and recalls his internment in a German POW camp, where he discovered his writing skills. Thor also reflects on the history of the islands, the links between dreaming and writing and the whims of fate. Brown's lyrical descriptions and gift for local color capture the flavor of the Orkneys (where he was born), but his thin and choppy story line undermines this otherwise worthwhile effort.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Guillermo Verdecchia is a writer, director, and actor whose work has been seen and heard across Canada and around the world. The author or co-author of, among auther works, Fronteras Americanas, The Noam Chomsky Lectures (with Daniel Brooks), and A Line in the Sand (with Marcus Youssef), he is a recipient of the Fovernor General’s Literary Award for Drama, a four-time winner of the Chalmers Canadian Play Award, as well as a recipient of Dora, Jessie, and sundry film festival awards.


Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars a worthy finalist for the 1994 Booker Prize Jan. 23 1999
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
George Mackay Brown placed an "idle, worthless child" in a boat to look at Time and mold and meld it with his young eyes. Thorfinn Ragnarson is the boy that sails in and out of his own world of Norday in the Orkney Islands of the 1930's. He takes the people of Norday and travels with them into ancestral pasts that far outstrip their solid, predictable day to day lives. When old Jacob Olafson dies, Thorfinn stops at the kirkyard on his way home from school. The Old Testament words, heard just the day before, ring with the gravediggers spade: "That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past." and Thorfinn builds a life for this old man. He brings baby Jacob across the sea to Norday, sees Jacob the young man board the Hudson's Bay ship, Windward, to journey to the "land of Eskimos and Indians" and return in ten years with an Indian wife. Real time runs its thread of laughter, solid Orkney logic and unexpected colour in the persons of Isa Esquoy, the small, constantly squeaking postmistress-storekeeper, Albert Laird, the joiner who crafts cradles and coffins, Mr. Simon, the droning, long-suffering schoolmaster and the Reverend Hector Drummond, a somewhat muddled minister whose mystery visitor, Sophie, appears in the homes of solitary folks and leaves a trail of laughter and love. Thorfinn, the adolescent, is stricken with an un-dying love for Sophie which surfaces only after the fields, barns and livlihoods of Norday are smothered under the necessary adjustments of war. Before that war, Thorfinn, the young man, still a solitary creature, had conjured the seal-people and spun love, marriage and dream-children from the sounds and silences of the sea. Read more ›
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Format:Hardcover
The first half of this novel is completely engrossing. Young Thorfinn Ragnar takes occurences from his everyday life and from these common threads weaves beautiful stories in his imagination. Of course, no one in the real world realizes the importance of these dreams, or how gifted Thorfinn is at weaving tales, and therefore he is dismissed as an "idle, useless boy." In the second half of the book, the story takes place in the real world, abandoning the accounts of Thorfinn's imaginary worlds, and it is here that the novel loses a bit of its charm. The novel is still a beautifully-written novel, and I'm very glad I had the chance to read it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars BRILLIANT March 22 2001
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
This novel indicates how much Brown was a master of language and imagery. He is equally effective at capturing magical flights of fancy and the ceaseless destruction of modern society. The tension between modern society and the traditional community has a global relevance that makes the story universal. The story would be just as poignant in Africa as it is in Brown's Orkney. A truly remarkable work that well deserved being Shortlisted for the Booker prize
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4.0 out of 5 stars Memory: the economy of experience July 17 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I spent 10 days in June 2009 trekking over the Orkney Islands and heard from many folks that I should read George MacKay Brown's work. "beside the Ocean in Time" is the second title I read. I was enthralled by the glimpses that MacKay Brown gives of the history, archeology,flora and fauna, and the people. My treasured memories of the recent trip were reinforced by the tales he created and there were many times that I smiled at the tapestry he wove.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a worthy finalist for the 1994 Booker Prize Jan. 23 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
George Mackay Brown placed an "idle, worthless child" in a boat to look at Time and mold and meld it with his young eyes. Thorfinn Ragnarson is the boy that sails in and out of his own world of Norday in the Orkney Islands of the 1930's. He takes the people of Norday and travels with them into ancestral pasts that far outstrip their solid, predictable day to day lives. When old Jacob Olafson dies, Thorfinn stops at the kirkyard on his way home from school. The Old Testament words, heard just the day before, ring with the gravediggers spade: "That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past." and Thorfinn builds a life for this old man. He brings baby Jacob across the sea to Norday, sees Jacob the young man board the Hudson's Bay ship, Windward, to journey to the "land of Eskimos and Indians" and return in ten years with an Indian wife. Real time runs its thread of laughter, solid Orkney logic and unexpected colour in the persons of Isa Esquoy, the small, constantly squeaking postmistress-storekeeper, Albert Laird, the joiner who crafts cradles and coffins, Mr. Simon, the droning, long-suffering schoolmaster and the Reverend Hector Drummond, a somewhat muddled minister whose mystery visitor, Sophie, appears in the homes of solitary folks and leaves a trail of laughter and love. Thorfinn, the adolescent, is stricken with an un-dying love for Sophie which surfaces only after the fields, barns and livlihoods of Norday are smothered under the necessary adjustments of war. Before that war, Thorfinn, the young man, still a solitary creature, had conjured the seal-people and spun love, marriage and dream-children from the sounds and silences of the sea. We thank you, George Mackay Brown, for those brief voyages that are the lives of men and for the whispers of melody from that "music that goes on and on, all the way from before the beginning till after the end."
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beside the Ocean of Time Jan. 30 2012
By Erling Aspelund - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Simply an oustanding book by George Mckay Brown just like his other books Magnus, Viking and Greenvoe. It is amazing e.g. how he spins a story around the old folktale "Woman and the sealskin". The best one of his collection and among the best I have read for a long time. Brown's love of Orkney shines though all his writings.
Erling Aspelund
3.0 out of 5 stars Good concept but thin plot Aug. 1 2005
By Matthew S. LaBar - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Brown clearly set out with a purpose in mind with this novel, and accomplished it brilliantly. The representation of how life in the Orkneys remained unchanged for centuries until suddenly being completely uprooted was very well done. Even having no knowledge of the islands beforehand, I was able to picture them through Brown's descriptions. The masterly of the language is excellent, especially with a little flair of local dialects. Vnfortunately, the nature of Brown's purpose makes it difficult for a good plot to surround it, and the story is rather unrewarding. Early on there is an interest in what's going to happen, but as it unfolds it becomes somewhat "hmm," and no more. For this I gave it a tough rating, but I do recommend that people read it, regardless of personal interests because it does show an interesting aspect of life.

If you are like me and were drawn to this book because you heard that Thorfinn is FPP (has a fantasy prone personality), it may not be what you're looking for. The idea of Thorfinn being FPP seemed to be more to move the story and goal along, and I'm not sure if Brown actually had experience with the condition. It's possible that Thorfinn is not FPP but a kid who fantasizes a lot and outgrows it.
4.0 out of 5 stars A Look into the Imagination of an "Idle, Useless Boy" Jan. 21 2000
By Lauryn Angel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The first half of this novel is completely engrossing. Young Thorfinn Ragnar takes occurences from his everyday life and from these common threads weaves beautiful stories in his imagination. Of course, no one in the real world realizes the importance of these dreams, or how gifted Thorfinn is at weaving tales, and therefore he is dismissed as an "idle, useless boy." In the second half of the book, the story takes place in the real world, abandoning the accounts of Thorfinn's imaginary worlds, and it is here that the novel loses a bit of its charm. The novel is still a beautifully-written novel, and I'm very glad I had the chance to read it.
2.0 out of 5 stars Here GMB Fails Aug. 24 2014
By Scáth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Brown is a favorite author of mine. His short stories are nothing less than excellent, and poetic, and truly brilliant in their simplicity and, yet, their profundity. However, Beside the Ocean of Time is a huge disappointment for me because Brown overwrites his characters. I happen to be a professional editor as well as a writer, and one of the things editors look for is believable dialogue. Sadly, Brown has his shepherds and crofters saying things that no country folk the world over would say--he has them speaking like loquacious poets. And that is simply not the reality of life anywhere one may travel.
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