Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

I discovered Kirsty Gunn, a writer from New Zealand who now lives in Scotland, through her first novel, a novella really, called Rain. I remember taking this slim little book off the shelf one day last spring, stretching out on a chair in the garden and not putting it down until I turned the last page about an hour and a half later. Rain was positively enchanting. Very poetic, very descriptive but with a powerful story peeking out from beneath all that beautiful language.

Since then I’ve been on the lookout for more of her work and at some point this Fall I ordered her third novel, Featherstone, published in 2002, which I finally started to read last week and which has already found a home on my favorite’s shelf.

Featherstone is a collage, a collage which when finally finished creates a portrait of the complexity and intricacy of longing. The story begins on a Friday evening in the town of Featherstone, takes up with a number of Featherstone’s residents and then wraps up early Sunday morning with the aftermath of tragedy. The reader spends a few short hours inside this bewildering world and then is asked to leave it as abruptly as he was welcomed within. These aren’t really characters you will be taking with you, if that makes any sense, because they would dissolve when removed from this place. The world Gunn creates is a bit magic, a bit Hell, mysterious and delicate and dark.

There is a story in Featherstone – the presumed reappearance of a young woman who left years and years before, who left quite a hollow in the wake of her departure  – but that preoccupation is minor compared to the gentle exploration of each different character and their own particular landscape of longing. The overall effect is quite sad, but not hopelessly so. And everyone is given a sense of beauty, though stark, and the ability to face-off with despair.

I was unsettled and a little confused by the ending, but instead of it irritating me, as might a different book, I can’t help taking this as an invitation to pick up the novel again and read it slowly a second time. It’s a book that wants careful consideration. Gunn’s prose style is, as I mentioned before, extremely poetic. And unapologetically so. She gets right inside her character’s thoughts and gives the reader their uncertainties, their illogical thinking, their emotional bartering and the way they worry at the tenderest of their wounds.

Gunn has four other books, including two novels, The Keepsake (1997) and The Boy and the Sea (2006), a collection of short stories called This Place You Return to is Home (1999), and a book of personal reflections, 44 Things (2007). I can’t recommend her enough and will just finish this with a passage from Featherstone, so you can see for yourself:

The air rustled again outside the window, and again Harland had the sensation of someone so close, so close she could touch him, like he could feel her breath moving across his skin. He was stirred again, as he was before, stirred deep within him, by the touch, by the sensation fo touch. The scent was still there in the air, close to him, watery, rivery, mingled with the scent of the leaves and trees and grasses, the scent of a shadow, a thing too small and soft to ever be a wife.

6 Responses to “Kirsty Gunn – Featherstone”

  1. Steph

    This sounds really interesting and like a book I would really enjoy. Reading your review, I was reminded of a book I read last year called “The Thin Place” by Katheryn Davis. It was similar to this in the sense that it focuses on a strange little town over a short period of time, and also had a very weird ending. I loved it, though, as the prose was captivating and wonderfully done. I’ve never heard of Gunn before, so I think I’ll definitely need to check her out! Thanks for the review!

  2. Stefanie

    Ok, she is now on my list of authors to look out for. The passage you quote is lovely and has a sort of breathless, dreamy quality to it.

  3. verbivore

    Steph – Thank you for the suggestion, I’ll have a look for the Davis book right away. And if you do find one of Gunn’s novels, I’d love to know what you think.

    Stefanie – Her writing is absolutely stunning. Very careful and quiet, but beautiful. I’d love to know what you think if you get a hold of one of her books.

  4. litlove

    I have never even heard of Kirsty Gunn (well, not beyond this blog 🙂 ). I’ll look out for her now.

  5. gentle reader

    I’m going to keep an eye out for this writer, too. The quote is poetic, and I do like that style of writing. Thanks!

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