The debut novel from Scottish singer/songwriter Colin MacIntyre, The Letters of Ivor Punch weaves a tale of the titular Ivor Punch, a police Sergeant on the Isle of Mull, and his letters to high profile figures including Barack Obama and Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Ivor’s letters tell the tale not only of his own life, but of his family in the present day and stretching back 150 years into the past. However, the real focal point of the book is the Isle of Mull itself and the sea.
The book does a fantastic job of showing us the history of the family and how they have shaped the islands’ history. Isabella and Henrietta Bird are at the top of the family tree, the former’s travel writing making her a revered and respected presence in the community and to her romantic sister Henrietta, whose illicit fling with the original Punch, Duncan, begins the Punch genealogy. Alexander, Ivor’s nephew, is the most recent addition to the Punch dynasty, forging a career as an orchestral musician in London. Yet he is always pulled back by the inevitable enigmatic character of the sea and island itself. These two form only a small part of the narrative with a huge cast of characters, both Punches and non-Punches, also thrown into the mix.
And yet, as the novel progresses, the main character becomes more and more apparent. Yes Ivor and his line of forefathers and successors infiltrate every story arc, but the sea and its wistful, almost hypnotic quality is what really holds the characters’ and readers’ attention.
The sea is perhaps the only constant through the novel and it keepts the story in line. At times, Mr MacIntyre creates a somewhat disjointed narrative, spending too long on some time periods and not enough on others. This is something which the reader might find unsatisfying, with the bulk of interesting characters suddenly becoming mere familial references. You finish one chapter with the sense that something hasn’t quite been explained before launching straight into another new story line with another set of characters to learn about.
Whilst the sometimes fragmented histories unhinge the uniformity of the novel, it is entirely apparent that Mr MacIntyre is a songwriter. His mastery of language and command of sound mean that, should the reader have trouble following the line of the story, they can relinquish themselves to the beauty and flow of the words before them and just enjoy the mood created by them.
Those thinking about reading The Letters of Ivor Punch should. If you tend to like books that weave together different histories, you’ll have hours of content at your fingertips to dive into, with the added pleasure of some of the most beautiful language control I’ve read for a long time. The Letters of Ivor Punch is certainly a satisfying book and an excellent debut for a new writer.