I’m not sure I know how to begin to describe The Letters of Ivor Punch by Scottish writer Colin MacIntyre. It’s a novel, of sorts. You might think it’s a collection of short stories, and that makes sense, for a while. You know it has a strange narrative structure – without a doubt. It moves back in forth in time, from the 19th century to the 21st century.
If I said it’s about Pan Am Flight 106 that was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, and about Charles Darwin, and an older man who writes letters to President Obama, and children disclaimed, unclaimed, and reclaimed, and about a uncle who turns out to be your grandfather (a recurring theme), and a funeral parlor, I might be getting close.
So, it is a wee bit wacky. Ivor Punch is the man writing the letters, asking President Obama to stop the British government from releasing the man who planted the bomb on the Pan Am flight. It’s because his brother and sister-in-law were aboard that flight. Except it wasn’t really his brother. But he wanders all over as he writes, and he doesn’t even send the letters.
And there’s the woman back in the 1860s, who moved with her sister to this remote island in the Hebrides off the coast of Scotland (far, far off the coast) (really far). The sister is famous as a world traveler and explorer. The one who stays home and keeps the house falls in love with the mailman, who will be an ancestor of Ivor Punch.
Author MacIntyre will even find time to insert himself in the story – the interloper who steal the name of the local historical society (and he did something of the kind, in real life).
The Letters of Ivor Punch won the 2015 First Book Award given by the Edinburgh International Book Festival. MacIntyre is also publishing a picture book for children this coming summer, entitled The Humdrum Drum, and I can’t imagine what that will be like. And MacIntyre is also a songwriter – his band is called Mull Historical Society and yes, that’s the name he swiped from the Isle of Mull, where he was brought up.
It’s actually a serious novel. That is, until you reach a point not too far from the end. I won’t say what it is, but you should know that there is a scene that caused me to laugh until the tears came and my wife thought I was strangling. I finally calmed down, resumed reading, and promptly started laughing all over again.
It’s a crazy book. It makes you think about how the idea of place shapes people. It makes you realize how odd families can be and often are. It argues that the past is always with us, so you might as well call the past is the present, and maybe the future.
I loved this wacky book and the story it tells.
Top photograph: a view of the island of Skye, one of the Inner Hebrides islands, by Rudiger Shafer via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.