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Book Review

Book Cover

The Brahan Seer
The Story of Scotland's Nostradamus


Author: Douglas Thompson
Publisher: Acair Books
RRP: £9.99
ISBN: 978 0 86152 562 1
Publication Date: 18 August 2014

The life and prophecies of Coinneach Odhar are hidden behind a veil of oral tradition and conflicting historical fact. In Scotland he is as famous as Nostradamus for predicting both technological advances and calamitous events. In an effort to make some sense of the tradition, Douglas Thompson has written The Brahan Seer (2014. 164 pages).

The book sits somewhere between an academic retelling of the story and a narrative reinterpretation. The style will feel a little odd as Thompson has retain much of the feeling of an oral history, therefore much that would be present in a novel is absent. Less time is spent on Odhar's thoughts and feelings and character development is almost wholly missing, but then this is the way of the modem novel, which itself only really dates back to the nineteenth century and not very conducive for conveying the nuances of an oral tradition. For this reason some of the book is a little heavy going with many sentences starting with a directive of what is happening (he says, he sits) which at times can make the story feel a little akin to a list, rather than a story.

Thompson, in the Afterword is up front about making slight alterations to try and reconcile some of the historical mismatches, where prophecies attributed to Odhar may well have come from two separate people, living one hundred years apart. Odhar purist may balk at this, but then this is Thompson’s interpretation and with so little hard historical fact to back it up, Thompson is as justified as any other writer in taking this course.

The book works best as a jumping off point to pique the reader interest in a subject that few outside Scotland would be aware of. The story is certainly interesting enough that I started to look on line for references to the character. Thompson also, in the Afterword gives a few good pointers on where to start looking for Odhar.

Margaret Elphinstone, novelist and Emeritus Professor at the University of Strathclyde, provides the book with its Forward, wherein she waxes lyrical about the character, with a passion approaching the one displayed by Thompson.

Even though the style may feel a little unusual, once you get into the story it starts to become compelling and ends up as a satisfying read and a story to fire the imagination and further research.


Charles Packer

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