In this atmospheric prose work poet and novelist Patrick McGuinness embarks on a journey of rediscovery around the French-speaking Belgian town of Bouillon, home of his mother’s family and of his own childhood. Starting in the stories he tells his Welsh-speaking children about their Belgian relatives, he retraces his own early years through a series of affectionate but sharply observed vignettes, peeling away layers of memory like fading wallpaper. In exploring the roots of his own identity he also uncovers and reappropriates the complex, remarkable life of this apparently unremarkable town in a too-often disregarded corner of western Europe. Extraordinary, even Rabelaisian, characters leap off the page, comfortable in their eccentricities, their voices reaching us through the atmospheric distortion of time past, but their echoes redolent of the fast-disappearing history of individuals, buildings, businesses, dialect and tradition. Photographs of places and artefacts anchor the narrative visually and deepen the sense of mystery, loss and love.
This ‘journey into memory’ is no mere personal odyssey, but an original and playful reinvention of the genre of memoir, written with humour and lyricism, the style encompassing every mood from the earthy to the elegiac. As the short, almost self-contained, narratives accumulate, they form a sustained and vivid meditation on the nature of memory and Proustian recovery of past time.
'McGuinness has written the great book on Belgium and modern memory, or even Belgium and modern being. He takes his place among those singers and painters of the haunted, the melancholy, the diminished, the caricatural, the humdrum: Ensor, Rodenbach, Sax, Huysmans, Simenon and Magritte.'
'This book had a powerful effect on me [...] a meditation - sometimes hilarious, sometimes freighted with tragedy - on times past [...] I understand why Patrick McGuinness goes back and back to the old, damp, quiet house in Boullion.'
The Literary Review
'[McGuinness] is the best advocate for Belgium since Poirot and Tintin... Fascinating, charming, poignant.'
'Beautifully paced… Rich and unforced.'
The Sunday Telegraph
'McGuinness’s prose trembles on the edge of poetry, occasionally indeed tipping gently over into it… Spellbinding… Beautifully written.'
'Lyrical and evocative... This is a very Proustian memoir, whose effect will be to drive the reader into contemplation of their own half-forgotten childhood home.'
The Sunday Times
'A rich analysis of home and homelessness.'
London Review of Books