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  • Published: 15 June 2012
  • ISBN: 9780099422372
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 336
  • RRP: $22.99

A Summer of Drowning

A terrifying and dream-like new novel from one of our greatest contemporary writers.

At a critical point in her career, painter Angelika Rossdal suddenly moves to Kvaloya, a small island deep in the Arctic Circle, to dedicate herself to the solitary pursuit of her craft. With her, she brings her young daughter, Liv, who grows up isolated and unable or unwilling to make friends her own age, spending much of her time alone, or with an elderly neighbour, Kyrre Jonsson, who beguiles her with old folk tales and stories about trolls, mermaids and - crucially for the events that unfold in the summer of her eighteenth year - about the huldra, a wild spirit who appears in the form of an irresistibly beautiful girl, to lure young men to their doom.

Now twenty-eight, Liv looks back on her life and particularly to that summer when two boys drowned under mysterious circumstances in the still moonlit waters off the shores of Kvaloya. Were the deaths accidental, or were the boys, as Kyrre believes, lured to their deaths by a malevolent spirit? To begin with, Liv dismisses the old man's stories as fantasy, but as the summer continues and events take an even darker turn, she comes to believe that something supernatural is happening on the island. But is it? Or is Liv, a lonely girl who has spent her entire life in the shadow of her beautiful, gifted mother, slowly beginning to lose touch with reality?

Set in the white nights of an Arctic summer, the novel has the heightened, hallucinogenic atmosphere of a dream, but culminates in a moment of profound horror. Intensely imagined and exquisitely written, A Summer of Drowning is a play of dark and light, of looking and seeing, that will hold and haunt every reader.

  • Published: 15 June 2012
  • ISBN: 9780099422372
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 336
  • RRP: $22.99

About the author

John Burnside

John Burnside is amongst the most acclaimed writers of his generation. His novels, short stories, poetry and memoirs have won numerous awards, including the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the Whitbread Poetry Award, the Encore Award and the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year. In 2011 he became only the second person to win both the Forward and T. S. Eliot Prizes for poetry for the same book, Black Cat Bone. In 2015 he was a judge for the Man Booker Prize. He is a Professor in the School of English at St Andrews University.

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Praise for A Summer of Drowning

It's very, very rare for a writer to be equally good at poems and novels. John Burnside is. He's a brilliant poet, a brilliant memoirist, and a brilliant novelist ... breathtakingly good

Christina Patterson, Independent

The most defining aspect of Burnside's work aside from its linguistic exactness is the beauty of his prose. Quite simply, he is a wonderful writer. Whatever he is writing always seems real and, considering much of the content of this new novel, that is a considerable asset for any storyteller

Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

Burnside allows the ambiguity to remain in a hauntingly memorable book

Nick Rennison, Sunday Times

In this beautifully sustained novel madness, mystery and myth-making collide. Burnside has an eerie attunement to the ineffable nature of existence and the fictions we construct to navigate and explain it

Adam O'Riordan, Financial Times

The novel invites you to view storytelling as akin to madness...In a book that often makes coded reference to itself to provoke serious thought as to what fiction is about, this counts as a joke. Its evasions may discomfit those who like to know exactly where they stand, but those who enjoy being teased as well as spooked should relish an eerie, ethereal novel that alludes to Lewis Carroll and uses methods of Hitchcock and David Lynch

Daily Telegraph

Memorable, atmospheric and compelling

Tim Souster, Times Literary Supplement

A beautiful and haunting book...A charming and deeply imaginative novel


Lyrical in his descriptions on the land of the midnight sun

Clare Colvin, Daily Mail

Burnside's prose has been frequently praised for its clarity, poetic sonority and fine cadences. It is certainly so here ... A Summer of Drowning marries philosophical meditation with the gooseflesh verve of a thriller

Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday

Burnside is an accomplished and careful writer. And this is a beautiful book, compelling and strange

Margaret Reynolds, The Times

Unsettling, hauntingly memorable tale

Sunday Times

Written with deceptive elegance, riddled with gaps and non sequiturs and a clever travesty of several genres, this is a disturbing, provocative book'


[A Summer of Drowning] brings an eerie glow to the colours and sounds, flora and foodstuffs of the far north

Justine Jordan, Guardian

It's very, very rare for a writer to be equally good at poems and novels. John Burnside is. He's a brilliant poet, a brilliant memoirist, and a brilliant novelist ... There are, says Liv, "two kinds of seeing". One is about finding "what we have always been told is there". The other is about going "out alone in the world", like "a boy going out into the fields, or along the shore" who finds that "something creeps in at the edge of his vision". John Burnside is breathtakingly good at both

Christina Patterson, Independent

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