The Voyage of St Brendan
In The Voyage of St Brendan, A.B. Jackson tells the tale of the legendary seafaring Irish abbot in poetry and prose. After burning a book of fantastical stories, Brendan is compelled to sail the ocean with a crew of six monks in a leather-skinned currach; his task, to prove the existence of wonders in the world and create a new book of marvels. Discoveries include Jasconius the island-whale, a troop of Arctic ghosts, a hellmouth of tortured souls, a rock-bound Judas, and the magical castle of the boar-headed Walserands.
Although the roots of this legend lie in early Irish tales and the Latin Voyage of Brendan the Abbot of the ninth century, Jackson has taken the 14th-century Middle Dutch version of Brendan’s voyage as the template for this engaging, witty and spirited interpretation, notable for its humour and inventiveness.
The book is beautifully illustrated with a series of black and white linocuts by the American artist Kathleen Neeley, one of which features in colour on the cover.
A swirl of animals and monsters and miraculous things, an amazing sea voyage in the way of Coleridge's Rime and Melville's Moby-Dick, A.B. Jackson's imaging of Brendan's founding myth is a modern fable of the patron saint of whales. Jackson's exquisitely subtle, uproarious, comical and transcendent work is extraordinarily concise and beautiful. Its words relish and reinvent The Voyage of St Brendan as a Dark Age rollercoaster ride. -- Philip Hoare A.B. Jackson's The Voyage of St Brendan is a feat of seriocomic storytelling. Informed by personal experience at sea in the far north, he uses Old Irish poetic forms while reflecting obliquely on polar exploration. Jackson's Brendan is not cast in the lone explorer mould: when his brothers doubt, they share uncertainty, as a "composite fog-animal". This book breaks happily with contemporary confessional trends, and invites us into its weird and gentle fictions. As the sailing saint himself calls out to Judas, "human flesh / deserves a break, some festive tenderness". -- Vahni Capildeo In revivifying one the most enduring stories of Western Europe, A.B. Jackson has nourished his imagination widely - medieval source texts, the literature of polar exploration, and his own encounters with the sea and with Brendan's native landscape of West Kerry. Also, crucially, he has reconnected the tale, in its mix of narrative prose and syllabic verse, to its Old Irish roots in Immram Brain (The Voyage of Bran). Somewhat akin to Calvino's Invisible Cities, Jackson's inventive, stylish versions of these sea-wonders are deeply re-imagined in keeping with their traditional sources, while also offering the contemporary reader a beguiling and authentic exposure to the marvellous. -- Maurice Riordan Brendan's fabulous adventures are told in prose of singing concision and quatrains both measured and elastic. Jackson's ear is super-fine, accomplishing in words a series of special effects to match those of the big screen. His images gleam, his rhythms and rhymes ("giddy" and "glad eye" my favourite) are jouncing and ingenious, making each poem a pleasure to read and re-read. -- Vidyan Ravinthiran One of the medieval world's richest legends has been given a remarkable treatment by A.B. Jackson. This is an excellent contribution to the considerable literature on St Brendan. -- Glyn S. Burgess
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