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About the book
  • Published: 15 January 2011
  • ISBN: 9780099507833
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 272
  • RRP: $22.99

Waking Up in Toytown

A Memoir

The sequel to the award-winning A Lie About My Father

In the early 80s, after a decade of drug abuse and borderline mental illness, a man runs away to the suburbs, to live what he hopes will be a normal life. With the aid of his last remaining friends he finds a regular job, goes to AA meetings and resolves to ‘disappear into the banal’ – to escape his addictive personality and find a ‘Surbiton of the mind’– but he can’t seem to outrun his own demons and, before long, he is back where he started.

The suburbs, though, are not quite as normal as he had imagined and, as he relapses into chaos, he encounters a homicidal office worker who is obsessed with Alfred Hitchcock and Petula Clark, an old lover, with whom he reprises a troubled, masochistic relationship and, finally, the seemingly flesh-and-blood embodiments of all his private phantoms – as he drifts further and further into unreality.

The sequel to his haunting, celebrated account of a troubled childhood, A Lie About My Father, John Burnside’s startling new memoir follows his hopeless quest for peace and mental security as the ghosts and terrors close in and the illusion of Surbiton falls apart. Unsettling, touching, oddly romantic and unflinchingly honest, this is the story of one man’s search for sanity – but it is also, in its own way, the true story of an impossible, unmanageable love.

  • Pub date: 15 January 2011
  • ISBN: 9780099507833
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 272
  • 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 Waking Up in Toytown

“Beautifully written and observed memoir ... an affecting book from a writer of manifest talent; a compellingly readable memoir possessed of a genuine spiritual and intellectual depth”

Adam O'Riordan, Sunday Telegraph

“A larger and more generous book ... the precision and beauty of his language is like a proof of his achievement - a kind of higher sanity”

Aida Eiderman, Guardian

“Most lucid and poetic of memoirs”

Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph

“Burnside may not find himself convincing, but this complex, considered piece of work certainly is”

Doug Johnstone, Independent

“There is no truer writer than John Burnside...the flow of his memory and consciousness, his balance between flying and vanishing, the hypnotism of his language, the poised wondering about the narratives which come together to comprise a sense of our lives. [a] searching enquiry into a life: bruised, filled with grace and as plangent and haunting as any plainsong.”

Catherine Lockerbie, Scotsman

“Hauntingly written ... a gripping, often humours account of the world of the functioning alcoholic ... stunningly exact prose”

Bee Wilson, Sunday Times

“A brilliant portrait of isolation...this sophisticated study of the human mind argues for our right "to continue in the pursuit of whole-heartedness. To be not-normal after all"”

Fiona Sampson, Independent

“''beautifully written and observed'' new memoir... He writes about ''squalor and desperation'' with ''precision and beauty''”

The Week

“Burnside's memoir deserves to become a classic. Has anyone written about the direct experience of mental illness with such scrupulous observation and wit?”

Daily Express

“Disturbing, powerful memoir”

Sunday Times

“One of the best memoirs I've read for ages”

William Leith, Spectator

“[Burnside has a] poetic eye for language and image...[a] non-judgemental, ultimately redemptive search for some sort of meaning among the shifting sands of madness and sanity”

Claire Allfree, Metro

“This is an extraordinary book and one so honest it scorches”

Carlo Gebler, Irish Times

“From the very first page, arrestingly headed 'The Epilogue,' Burnside's memoir is absorbing.”


“Burnside is an utterly original author”

Harry Eyres, Financial Times

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