The favourite book of Nigel Roby, the chief executive of The Bookseller: "I love this book - it's about Scotland, hills, male friendships, mental health, whisky. The poet Norman MacCaig who I didn't know until I read this. Just buy this book it is absolutely bona fide wonderful!"
Much of the book is in the vein of the new nature writing, but with elements of confessional memoir, fascinating musing about poetic method, history and geology, and biographical material about MacCaig. Consistently well-written, sometimes dazzlingly so, this book is difficult to slot into a genre. Let's just call it literary non-fiction. Oddly, a note on the copyright page begins "This book is a work of fiction": all perfectly clear, then...
This book is infused with pure spirit of MacCaig – "Assynt looks extraordinary because it is." Many spirits, however, give it radiance, including MacLean of the twinkling eyes and the elongated diphthongs. Sorley's courteous, curious, opening question to those to whom he was drawn, was always "And who are your people?" And though this is nature writing of the first order, in the end Greig is gathering in his people. He once nearly died from a brain trauma – he alludes to it without tragic emphasis here, where many writers would have wallowed in the dank fear.
Greig's own journey is born of love and admiration and during it his view gains in depth and realism with the knowledge that MacCaig was in the first place a fellow human, brought low in old age by the death of Isabel, his wife of 50 years, and by illness which meant he could no longer travel to the place that gives the book its title. If it could happen to him, Greig implies, it's a grim lookout for the rest of us... It is Greig's habit to set literature aside in favour of life, but the rich contradictions involved in doing so require him to exercise all his considerable art.