Spirit of Jura (3 stars)

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Janice Galloway

While various coffee houses of the Scottish capital have taken credit for providing the caffeine-fuelled watershed for JK Rowling’s career, few places have such literary resonance as Jura. The iconic isle was the isolated spot where George Orwell, fresh from the wartime notoriety of Animal Farm, holed himself up to write Nineteen Eighty-Four, the masterpiece which turned out to be his swansong. Cloaked under the birthname anonymity of Eric Blair, he dragged his pencil-thin moustache and TB-strewn skeletal frame to the abandoned Barnhill farmhouse with his sister Avril and an aspirant author called Paul Potts in tow (he was believed to have fled in an understandable huff when one of his manuscripts was used to light the fire), while his adopted son Richard joined him some time later. This collection gathers up the fiction, essays, drawings and poems which have been produced by writers and artists who followed his journey having been granted the freedom to create magic in the lodge.

Janice Galloway (pictured) and the late Bernard Crick, provide chapters which evocatively peer into Orwell’s experiences on the island while Will Self offers up a typically verbose and entertainingly meandering detail of his time writing in remote locales. Philip Gourevitch delivers a straight prose about a jaded war reporter and there are poetic deliberations from Liz Lochhead and Kathleen Jamie. Though there is plenty to savour here (and a book on Jura can’t ignore the overall whiskeyness of the place), there is little that could be hailed as spectacular. Perhaps the spectre of Orwell and the haunting foreshadowing he produced ultimately intimidated rather than kickstarted the muse.

(Polygon)

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