What is an ordinary life worth?
A seasoned writer stumbles across an obituary and imagination is sparked. The brief words of memoriam describe a woman who was both extraordinary—eccentric, revered in her field, a renowned expert—but also utterly ordinary. How does a writer, intrigued by all that isn’t said, create a story? Capture an unknowable woman and all the secret passions, choices and compromises that make up a life?
In Machine Without Horses, Helen Humphreys explores the real life and the imagined internal life of the famous and famously private salmon-fly dresser, Megan Boyd, a craftswoman who worked for sixty years out of a bare-bones cottage in a small village in the north of Scotland. Humphreys, both present in the story and its architect, reveals with her inimitable style the complicated emotional landscape that can exist under even the most constant surface.
“Humphreys is one of this country’s most beautiful writers, and her books are often sparked by a single moment. This newest, for example, stems from an obituary, from which she creates a life story.”
“[Humphreys’] impressive ability to tell a story through the ordinary actions of her characters makes reading Machine Without Horses an effortless pleasure.”
“Humphreys is a consummate storyteller. . . . [She] is always meditating upon fiction as an art form and its ability to replicate life. Humphreys is not only a writer—she is a writer/critic in the tradition of the poet/critic, T.S. Eliot.”
“One of the best — and most wonderfully experimental — historical fiction titles of the year … Humphreys is an extraordinary writer. Truly spectacular.”
“A life story in two moving parts, this gem of a novel is as unique as the woman who inspired it … Spinning a compelling tale that blends fact and fiction, [Humphreys] delivers a transcendent life-honouring work.”
“A beautifully told story from start to finish and one of the most surprising books of the year.”
“In this ingenious mix of fiction and fact, Humphreys...meditates on the art of writing, how to bring a character to life as well as what matters and what doesn’t. Typical of Humphreys, the book is magical and mesmerizing and surprisingly, given the subject, deeply emotionally satisfying.”