The hills only come back the same: I don’t mind … begins Kirsty Gunn’s The Big Music, a novel that takes us to a new understanding of how fiction can affect us.
Presented as a collection of found papers, appendices and notes, The Big Music tells the story of John Sutherland of ‘The Grey House’ who is dying and creating in the last days of his life a musical composition that will define it. Yet he has little idea of how his tune will echo or play out into the world – and as the book moves inevitably through its themes of death and birth, change and stasis, the sound of his solitary story comes to merge and connect with those around him.
In this work of fiction, Kirsty Gunn has created something as real as music or as a dream. Not so much a novel as a place the reader comes to inhabit and to know, The Big Music is a literary work of undeniable originality and power.
Praise for The Big Music
“More than a dappled tale, an allegory, or history, The Big Music is a landscape; a work of longing fragments that collect on a journey and grow to light lands before, around, and after them. It’s a hike that makes us feel not so much Scotland as Scottish, and whose flavours, like the title’s theme, cannot be made small. Haunting and spacious.” dbc Pierre, author of the Man Booker prize winning Vernon God Little
I emerged from The Big Music blown away by the pulse and force of such fearless writing. It is beautiful, powerful work. Gunn has written to a rhythm and not to a plot – as Virginia Woolf urges – and she has written a landscape I didn’t want to leave. Gunn terrain! How deeply I love this book, a magnificent tour de force. Jane Goldman, General Editor of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Virginia Woolf
Why is it that in the English-speaking world it is nearly always women writers – Virginia Woolf, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Muriel Spark, Rosalind Belben, and now Kirsty Gunn – who understand, as composers have always understood, that we human beings are not solitary individuals facing the world but form part of a larger music, which may be intuited but can never be fully grasped?
A narrative which caught this would remind us more of the Norse Sagas and William Faulkner than of Jane Austen and Anthony Powell. Kirsty Gunn’s remarkable novel, which seeks to give voice to the bleak loneliness of the Scottish Highlands by forging a very precise narrative equivalent of the highest form of traditional bagpipe music, does just that. It is a remarkable achievement. Gabriel Josipovici literary critic and author of The World and the Book
Kirsty Gunn reads from ‘The Big Music’: http://vimeo.com/44652978