Review by Archie MacPherson
Fishing here is not the subject matter. It’s a metaphor to cast into memory and retrieve what comes up. Like those trout flies that look nothing like flies but attract the fish, as if they too perceive the world through metaphors. Certainly, reality, so invoked in this book, so almost tactile, is always shimmering too, like clouds and shadows, reflections on water, shifting colours and n depths. Fishing as metaphor also evokes chance, skill, success and failure, and time: if you cannot wait fruitlessly through shifting moods, and without catching anything, you are not a true angler.
I very much like Greig’s work: his climbing books, his novels and his poetry. He and two old friends, brothers, found the Loch of the Green Corrie following Greig’s final meeting with his friend, the great poet Norman MacCaig who was 86 at the time. He asked Greig to travel to Lochinver, that most loved village of MacCaig up in the far northwest, and there ask for Norman MacAskill who may, “if he likes you” tell you where the loch was to be found.
MacCaig, knowing his own death was imminent said that if Greig didn’t manage to catch a fish there he would look down from that place in which he did not believe and smile.
Yet, writing the book and reflecting, years later, Greig realises that MacCaig’s request was not in fact the theme of the book but its occasion. And although it is full of beautiful and tender anecdotes and imagery around MacCaig, and one superb section which discusses his poetry, , At the Loch of the Green Corrie is essentially a personal memoir, a deeply honest and potent autobiographical account that is structured perfectly to embed itself in the geology, the history and community of the Assynt landscape. Memory is the key here, and his refractions of the deep time of rock’s emergence from fire, of the deep space of the cosmos into which space he feels himself falling one star-saturated night provide a startling perspective upon human activity. His character pictures are wonderfully humane, his understanding of historical injustice straightforwardly angry. Always pondering the far and the close, the inner and the outer, most of all his tender immanence of those whom he knows and has known are one stratum of that powerful word we know as Love.
There is, for me, a painfully recognisable coming to terms with frailty, death, the unhappy times in life. Much here recounts waste, life cut short, the presence of Death at every step. Although Greig does not evoke Pascal’s “thinking reed” – that fragile, almost negligible thing but with a mind that can take on the whole universe – it came to mind while I was reading. A passage such as this gives an example”
As I stand on a new rock and work my line out, I am casting alongside it, a internal counterpart, sent out for its own ghostly catch. Which is where we live, balancing precariously on this rock, at the intersection of the world outside and the one within.
Surely, throughout the book too, is an act of love quite woven into the text, what Greig the poet has learned, especially from MacCaig but all who have influenced him, so:
Whether clambering over diorite dyke swarms, passing a hand over my lover’s face or the chill strata on Knockan Crag, driving through empty glens, considering the metamorphoses of poetry, the quests are aspects of the one quest: to find the faultlines – or if you prefer something more positive-sounding, the lines of thrust – that have brought us to where we are.
An where we are is “tracing ways that we take the world and remodel it within. Call it metaphor or memory, opinion or mind-spin, it remains the incorrigible mystery we call our life.”
What can’t be remotely conveyed in this short review but needs pointing out is that At the Loch of the Green Corrie is a celebration of friendship and love. I fear I have skimmed off only its more philosophical surface (Greig is a Philosophy graduate, and a self-affirmed East Coast rationalist), and left unspoken the richness of the writing, the humour and joy, the affirmation of life. Perhaps we are all fishers, and it’s only in our own dedication to casting and retrieving that we’ll share the vision:
Between the … inner and outer worlds, lies a chasm. And across that are slung the slender, dizzying bridges of empathy, metaphor, curiosity, art, intellect and the potency that bundles together all these – love.