Fishing for Amber

Ciaran Carson
Fishing for Amber

Dazzlingly weaves Irish fairy tales, Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the history of the Dutch golden age into the form of a magical alphabet. Carson triumphs over the distinction between fact and fiction in the pleasure of telling his stories.

‘His new book Fishing for Amber (Granta, pounds 12.99) had its genesis in a story told by his wife Deirdre Shannon, about how she was walking with her parents near Lough Neagh when they came upon a well called the Holy Pool. Deirdre overheard two elderly couples reminiscing about their youth nearby, and how they used to amuse themselves by tying a tin can to a stick and dredging up nuggets of amber out of this holy well. Amber in Antrim? This can’t be right, Carson thought. He promptly started leafing through the Irish Ordnance Survey Memoirs for 1835, where, to his surprise, found the story corroborated: “it is fine spring water and produces amber crystals”. These crystals were soon embedded in his imagination, and wouldn’t leave him alone until he constructed an entire edifice of them: a kind of literary equivalent of the famous Russian Amber Room which fell into Nazi hands during the Second World War and has never resurfaced.

Fishing for Amber is subtitled “A Long Story”, though he calls it more of an extended essay – “but essays don’t sell”. It’s an investigation into many aspects of amber with offshoots and digressions, but with several structural devices which hold the whole thing in equilibrium… If it’s a long story, it contains short stories, tall stories, factual stories, foot-off-the-ground stories, old stories, true stories, stories- within- stories. The more you try to classify it, the more you lose the thread. All you can do is read and admire it, and submit to its powerful playful logic and astringent charms.

Whatever his literary influences – Borges, W G Sebald and Flann O’Brien come to mind – Carson remains totally original and utterly absorbing. Whether he’s prospecting for amber, or pursuing historical accuracy, he uncovers gold.’ Independent


  • Tokyo Sogensha Japan

Previously Granta, rights reverted.

Material: English PDF