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This review is taken from PN Review 261, Volume 48 Number 1, September - October 2021.

Cover of Imagined Spaces
Iain BamforthKirsty Gunn and Gail Low, Imagined Spaces (The Voyage Out Press) £14.99
It’s curious how collections of essays nearly always devote space, in the introduction or among the contents, to defining exactly what the essay is – as if it suffered from a crisis of legitimacy despite having been a literary form for four hundred years, or more troublingly, as if editors are unsure readers will recognise an essay when presented with one. Perhaps the currently hobbled forms of public discourse on what is euphemistically known as the social media have a role to play in this phenomenon. Like the novel, the essay has been proclaimed dead; yet both forms thrive, and have even been known to cross-fertilise: the ‘personal essay’ promises to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth whereas nothing, but nothing, is guaranteed true in the ‘fictional essay’.

Imagined Spaces, a publication from Dundee’s Voyage Out Press and edited by Kirsty Gunn and Gail Low, is no exception to this rule, and also provides examples of these new hybrid and crossover forms. Dundee, Scotland’s fourth and possibly most overlooked city, home to literary talents as diverse as W.N. Herbert and Don Paterson, is a significant presence in the book. It opens with its editors walking across the Tay bridge, observing ‘the river’s flat-calm grey, rendered in a dull sheen by the low light’ and developing an analogy between the span of the bridge and the span of words that ‘glint and teem’. Dundee’s striking setting on the edge of the Tay was not lost on the trustees of the V&A who were ...

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