A Book of Fish and Death

Peter MacAulay sits down to write his will. The process sets in motion a compulsive series of reflections: a history of his own lifetime and a subjective account of how key events in the post-war world filter through to his home, Stornoway. He reveals his passions for history, engines and fish, and witnesses changing times – and things that don’t change – in the Hebrides. The novel is driven by its idiosyncratic narrator, but with counterpoints from people he engages with – his father, mother, wife, daughter, friends. It’s all about stories, a litany of small histories witnessed during one very individual lifetime

Reviews:

Candia Williams

A Book Of Death And Fish by Ian Stephen (Saraband, £18.99) may well take its place beside Moby-Dick, asking of you something as much and giving in proportion – which is to say incalculably much, and that long after you have finished it, over and over. It will, I suspect, be one of those books I will not put down all my days: island life, life at sea, being en-islanded, the isolation of failed understanding, of loss, of identity, even of nationhood – and of tank warfare – of addiction and of much else, all broached in a daring remade language that teaches you how to read it.”

Robert Morace, Professor of English, Daemen College , Amherst, New York

“At 574 pages, poet Ian Stephen’s debut novel, A Book of Death and Fish, is not a work to be finished in a single go, but it is one you will want to. Wholly original, it nonetheless strangely calls to mind, for this North American reader at least, writers as different as Herman Melville, Mark Twain and Alistair MacLeod. Like Moby-Dick, A Book of Death and Fish combines compelling narrative with densely detailed but no less compelling chapters devoted to such mundane matters as building a boat, repairing a chimney and selecting roofing slates. (As in Melville, no metaphysics without physics.) The great lesson Twain learned from his time piloting steamboats was that the Mississippi was too changeable to be learned once and for all but had to be read, experienced and navigated anew on every trip, much as Stephen’s main character, Peter, has to, no less in his life in general than in trying to reach land during a storm. Perhaps it’s the fiction of Alistair MacLeod that Stephen’s novel most calls to mind; set in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, rather than MacLeod’s Cape Breton, A Book of Death and Fish shares a similarly rugged landscape and stoic yet lyrical simplicity. MacLeod’s recent death makes Stephen’s novel all the more welcome. This novel about Peter is also about island life – or rather about life, past and present, on the island and how, like Peter, the island community both endures and evolves, existing apart from the mainland and the larger world but interacting with both.”

 

 

Ian Stephen

Ian Stephen was born in Stornoway in 1955 and still lives in that town. He has been publishing poetry and short fiction in many countries since 1979. His poems are gathered in several collections (Dangaroo Press, Polygon, The Windfall Press, Morning Star) and his first selected poems was a parallel text edition in Czech and English (Periplum, Olomouc, 2007). A new selected poems on maritime themes was published in 2016 by Saraband, Glasgow who also published his large-scale novel, A Book Of Death and Fish. His cross-genre history of personal love affairs with boats and the stories and landscapes they have carried him through will be published as Waypoints by Adlard Coles Nautical (Bloomsbury) in 2017.