Jun 11, 2007

Dream Angus by Alexander McCall Smith

This book is part of the Canongate Myths Series, and it was an extra read for the Once Upon a Time challenge. I decided to pick it up because I was really impressed with the books I’d read in the series, and this one was no exception. Getting it was a bit of a shot in the dark, because I was not familiar with Alexander McCall Smith, nor with the Celtic Myth of Angus, but I was very pleasantly surprised. In fact, I think this is my favourite book in the series so far.

Angus is the Celtic God of love, youth and dreams. McCall Smith describes him as follows:
Angus was the god of love, and of youth too, and of dreams. All who saw him loved him; there were no exceptions. They would wait for him to pass by and they would ask him to send them a dream of the man or the woman who would be their lover, and he always did that; he never refused. And if the person who stopped him and asked him was a girl or a woman, she would get a kiss, and the kiss would become a bird, a small bird that would flutter around for a few moments and then would disappear somewhere on the wind, leaving those who had seen it to wonder whether they had imagined the whole thing.
In Dream Angus, certain mythological episodes concerning Angus’ conception, birth and life are beautifully retold. The chapters about Angus are alternated with chapters with contemporary stories of people whose lives are touched by Angus – by dreams, by love, by youth and the loss of it – in one way or another.

These stories are beautiful, and some are really moving too. There’s the story of the couple on their honeymoon who still have to discover what sharing and intimacy truly mean; there’s the story of the young Scottish boy who loves his older brother more than anything; there’s the story of the pig-keeper who gets too attached to one of the lab pigs he looks after; there’s the story of the woman who feels her life crumbling along with her marriage. These stories are subtly related to one another, and are of course also related to Angus, some in more obvious ways than others.

What I loved the most about this book was how beautiful the writing was. I kept thinking it reminded me of something, and it took me a while to figure out what it was. It was of one of my favourite books, Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish. Dream Angus has the same kind of subtle mix of fantasy and realism, the same attention to detail, the same simple and yet beautiful way of describing things and people and feelings which makes them seem fresh and new. There were many moments in the book that brought tears to my eyes. Allow me to share just one more passage, one that I really love:
…but stranger than that, surely, was something one of the women noticed about the birds that perched Angus’s window overnight, waiting until he should come outside in the morning. At first the women thought that these birds never truly slept, as they made tiny sounds, chirruping through the night, but then they noticed that the birds’ eyes were indeed closed and that the sounds they made were the sounds of their bird-dreams, as a sleeping dog will growl when it chases some quarry in its dreams. Nobody had imagined that birds dreamed, and many would have said it was impossible, for birds have very small heads and there is no room for dreams in such heads; but these women now knew differently, because they had seen it. They knew that birds had dreams, even if they were tiny ones, of small things that happened in small places – amongst the leaves, or in little corners, in the small lives of birds.
This book was a very fast read. I thought I would have no time to read this weekend, as I was going to be out most of the time, but I got through it in a little over an hour on the train. It left me wanting to read more of Alexander McCall Smith’s work, and also wanting to read more about Celtic Mythology. I don’t know as much about it as I do about other traditions, but I really love everything I do know.

Other Blog Reviews:
A Fondness for Reading
Reading Adventures
Booknotes by Lisa
Valentina's Room


  1. I absolutely adore the Canongate Myths series and I am so glad they keep adding new titles to the series all the time. "Dream Angus" sounds fascinating and you've written a sparking review, I will definitely have to pick it up. The last one I read was Margaret Atwood's "Penelopiad".

  2. I'm so excited about the future titles in this series - they will include authors I love, like A. S. Byatt, Philip Pullman and Ali Smith.

    I read The Penelopiad recently and I enjoyed it, but I found this one even better! I'd love to know what you think of it when you get to read it.


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