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The latest memoir by the prize-winning author of A Lie About My Father

In this exquisite, haunting book, John Burnside describes his coming of age from the industrial misery of Cowdenbeath and Corby to the new world of Cambridge. This is a memoir of romance – of lost love and the love of being lost – darkened by threat, illuminated by glamour.

The old Scots word ‘glamour’ means magical charm, and the first time he was played I Put a Spell on You, John Burnside thought he had never heard a more beautiful song – it was an enchantment, a fascination that would turn to obsession. Implicit in the song were all the ambiguities that intrigued him – love, possession and danger – and this book is an exploration of the darker side of glamour and attraction. Beginning with memories of a brutal murder, the book follows the author through a series of uncanny encounters with ‘lost girls’, with brilliant digressions on murder ballads, voodoo, acid and insomnia, and a cast that includes Kafka and Narcissus, Diane Arbus and Mel Lyman, The Four Tops and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and time spent lost in the Arctic Circle, black-and-white films and a mental institution. Ending with the tender summoning of the ghost of his dying mother as she sings along to the radio in her empty kitchen, I Put a Spell on You is a book about memory, about the other side of love: a book of secrets and wonders.


A marvellously meandering, digressive study of the nature of love… Burnside has a lovely garrulousness that is distinctively his own… Exact and enthralling.

Tessa Hadley, Guardian

[An] indirect, peculiar, consuming memoir… Full of wonders.

Kate Kellaway, Observer

A wise and wryly glum autobiography written in a highly rewarding, pared-back style.

Martin Hemming, Sunday Times

Captivating and unsettling… A work of scalding honesty.

Sophie Elmhirst, Financial Times

Intoxicating… Remarkable… A long-player that resonates long after the stylus has lifted.

Brian Morton, Glasgow Sunday Herald

Extraordinary, haunting… One reads this book and gets a very real sense of a writer who has thought through an individualistic and compelling way of looking at the world, one that does indeed cast a mightily powerful spell all of its own.

David Robinson, Scotland on Sunday

Astonishing… Not just brilliant, but essential reading.

Grace McCleen, Independent

Beautifully expressed and rich in ideas… Powerfully resonant.

Michael Prodger, Mail on Sunday

Throughout this wonderful book Burnside shows himself incapable of a dull sentence or a shop-soiled thought.

Cressida Connolly, Spectator

A scintillating and insightful ragbag.

Jake Kerridge, Telegraph

A “coming of age” memoir unlike any other you will ever read.

Candia McWilliam, Scotsman

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    May 15, 2015


    288 pages

    RRP $22.99

    Online retailers

    • Amazon
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    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    May 1, 2014

    Vintage Digital

    288 pages

    Online retailers

    • Amazon Kindle AU
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    • eBooks