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I Put a Spell on You review John Burnside's path less travelled

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In this digressive, consuming 'anti-memoir' the poet traces his development in prose that's full of wonders

John Burnside's I Put a Spell on You is an anti-memoir. It involves trying to give himself the slip, something he also attempts as a poet although the paradox is that losing and finding yourself often turn out to mean the same thing.

As a reader, you need to approach this book with no bossy preconception of what a memoir ought to be, for it is made up of digressions they are its core. You have to trust and go wherever Burnside's singular fancy takes you. When in Finland, he decides not to do as the Finns do but to strike out in the snow without a compass in death-defying rashness. Intellectually, he is often tempted, too, to throw the compass into the snow, to see where unknown paths lead, to risk perdition. He is an advocate for wildness and Scottish non-conformity (you will find a wackily attractive retake on the story of Narcissus and a long, startling theory about the drowned girl in every post-adolescent boy). The Celtic word he takes to mean "just outside the societal" is thrawn and comes up a lot.

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