Waking Up in Toytown, By John Burnside

The darker side of Surbiton

For some, John Burnside is Scotland's greatest living writer and this memoir, a follow-up to the splendid A Lie About My Father, doesn't disappoint.

What elevates his recall of dark days trying to recover from drug and alcohol abuse is a self-awareness that never becomes navel-gazing, and a philosophising on the nature of existence that never descends into preaching. After leaving a mental hospital, Burnside decides that suburbia will save him and he heads for Surbiton to reinvent himself and experience a basic nine-to-five existence.

What he finds, though, is not the narrative he seeks but "an emaciated idea of normal" that challenges his search for a sane environment. Burnside's humour and compassion are the marks of his survival.