Fantasy on the Greens
If youíve heard me talk about Andrew Greig it will have been in terms of "triangulation". Heís an old school friend of Iain M. Banks and Ken MacLeod. Thatís important mostly because it was MacLeod who introduced me to Andrew Greigís work with his third novel, When They Lay Bare, and Iíve been a bit of a fan ever since.
Greigís work hovers on the borderlands of fantasy, but as it is very much approaching fantasy from "the mainstream" I would be reluctant to describe it as "slipstream". Greigís work lacks the artifice of a Mitchell or a Winterson. Instead, his work is lyrical, a little elegiac ó he says himself in Preferred Lies that his themes are love, sex and death (not necessarily in that order) óand dreamy. Electric Brae was about mountain climbing and mountain climbers (he has written two non-fiction books about mountain climbing as well). When they Lay Bare is a family saga of misdirected love structured around willow pattern plates. That Summer was a love story of the Second World War, eventually broadcast as a radio play on Radio 4; and there are others. If I were to look for a writer to compare to Greig, and heís a writer for whom that feels inappropriate, it would be as a milder M. John Harrison, with all Harrisonís precision and intensity, but taking the world more gently, waiting for it to come to him.
Preferred Lies, Greigís newest book, is non-fiction. Itís his memoir of re-exploring golf after an illness so severe that he nearly died. Iím not a golfer. I donít think Iíve ever watched more than a few minutes of the game on television, but the book captivated me. As Greig described the golf courses of Scotland ó rough, egalitarian, eccentric ó I realized that this was not the golf of England, a much more middle class and manicured game by far. The golf that Greig grew up with was the equivalent of street football, what you did after work or after school on grounds that had sometimes four hundred years of history, and which frequently belonged to the local community. Several of the courses on which he plays are maintained by volunteers. Details of the development of the game, from feathered balls, to gutta percha to the modern ball; talk of willow and hickory shafts; of aluminum hollow irons; these all drop effortlessly into the conversation for the reader to pick up or not. The joy of the book is not in the detail, but in the pleasure which Greig takes in the details. This is true also when Greig talks of the people with whom he played and plays.
In Preferred Lies Greig takes us into a world where a compliment is to be shrugged off or disparaged, where the joy of the game is genuinely in the playing. We learn of sibling rivalries on the green, of different ways of playing and thinking about the game. We meet Zen golf, and golf as a challenge to the weather to do its worst. Golf becomes a metaphor for love, and it seems appropriate because this is such a loving book. Preferred Lies is not a book about golf, nor is it a journey through a golfing landscape. Rather it is a life told with golf, inscribing a relationship to both land and people.