Van has finished reading…The Letters of Ivor Punch by Colin MacIntyre

11 Apr

When we hear of an island story, of something that happens in a place that’s cut off from everywhere else, we tend to assume that it’s going to be a small story. Granted, it may not seem so small to the people it happens to but in the grand scheme of things…

And there’s the rub, because actually when you look at the bare bones of all the big stories they’re really just a broiling mass of small stories clinging together. They’re all made up of people. The difference, I think, with an island story is one of intensity. The things that happen there are no bigger or smaller but are more intensified, less diluted by the rush of incidental experience.

Colin MacIntyre’s The Letters of Ivor Punch is both a big and a small story. It’s a family saga, full of intrigue and deception, built of and told from the lives of each generation that forms the whole. Each person carries the weight of the past in their own way, and the root of them all, the island itself, is as much a character as the people who inhabit it. Its myths and its moods permeate everything, a whiff of melancholy threading like a mist that both hides and reveals.

The isolation is palpable. These appear to be people intensified. They are people, individuals in their own right, but they are very much their professions too, whatever they may be. Is it a petty scrabbling prestige when someone insists on being called Sergeant when they are in uniform, or skipper when they’re in the boat? Or is it something more? They are a cog in the wheel of society, bound by the duty of that station. They are more than the body that stands before you. Or perhaps this is a way to hide in so microscopically exposed a community. No-one is ever only what they tell you they are.


There’s a captivating fluidity to Colin MacIntyre’s writing. Though I did find the earlier visitors to the island (Hennie, Isabella and Darwin) harder to engage with, his island inhabitants are strikingly real. I came away feeling that Ivor is a man I would have both liked and feared to get to know. Here is where the use of letters as a means to tell the story works to great effect. There is so much of the man evident in his correspondence with The Leader of The Free World – so much more than a taciturn old curmudgeon who won’t relinquish his uniform – that simply wouldn’t ring true if told in another way. I could feel too how this was a valve for Ivor, a confessional, a place where he could admit to the depth and breadth of what he feels, and MacIntyre manages to articulate this with both ferocity and grace.


It’s so easy to get caught up in the idea of world events and feel disconnected from them. This captivating book is a timely reminder that we are all part of this world, and that we all have a place in its story.


The Letters Of Ivor Punch was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on 14th may 2015 ISBN:9781780229041


You can find Colin MacIntyre on Twitter @colinmacintyre or at his website,


My thanks to Virginia Woolstencroft at W & N for allowing me to review this book.


2 Responses to “Van has finished reading…The Letters of Ivor Punch by Colin MacIntyre”

  1. crimeworm 11/04/2016 at 5:45 pm #

    Nice review! I was in school with Colin, so was pleased to see a review; I haven’t seen many on blogs. We were both brought up on the Island.

  2. vanisreading 11/04/2016 at 8:33 pm #

    Thanks. It definitely deserves to be more widely known. Such great voices.

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