Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Island of Wings

Writing Wednesday
Would you go to the end of the earth for love? 
1830. Neil and Lizzie MacKenzie, a newly married young couple, arrive at the remotest part of the British Isles: St Kilda. He is a minister determined to save the souls of the pagan inhabitants; his pregnant wife speaks no Gaelic and , when her husband is away, has only the waves and the cry of gulls for company.
As both find themselves tested to the limit in this harsh new environment, Lizzie soon discovers that marriage is as treacherous a country as the land that surrounds her.

This is the blurb on the back of the book I referred to in my blog post a little over a week ago. Would you go to the end of the earth for love? Possibly not. And probably not to St Kilda's. Then again, I did move to Zambia, so perhaps I would.

I found the story premise (as quoted above) a little far-fetched. Can you really live on a remote island for a whole year, particularly when pregnant, and talk to no-one else except your husband? Even if you don't speak the language? There is so much conversation that can be undertaken by simple words and gestures. And why didn't her husband try to teach her any Gaelic?

To me the story hides behind stereotypical characterisations. The minister is austere, distant, unprepared to show emotion - particularly love to his wife. The wife is subservient, timid and not prepared to make her own steps into the community. Whilst I realise that life in 1830 was very different to today, I think it would be possible at some point to write about a presbyterian who loves his wife and family, as well as God! I found it all quite frustrating, as I wanted to shout at Lizzie to pull herself together, to get a grip, to make her own way, and was thwarted by repeated put-downs.

To be fair, Lizzie's life perked up once she had a child and a maid from the mainland that she could talk to. I liked that inside the front cover was a map of St Kilda and the islands around it. When an author, or publisher, puts something like that it then I am comforted that they feel it will be helpful to the reader, to place events or people throughout the story. It would have been more use to me to know exactly where St Kilda is in relation to Scotland, but perhaps that is just me.

I did enjoy the descriptions of the islands and their inhabitants. I could virtually smell and feel the hovels that the natives lived in and I could picture the daft puffins nesting on the cliffs and the birds migrating with the seasons. I could sense the starvation that must have ripped through the community if the boat didn't come in the summer. And I could see the glorious blue sky of a summer's day, lasting almost through the night.

I cannot say I would recommend the book, although parts of it were thoroughly enjoyable to read. For me there were unresolved issues or (perhaps worse) matters that were poorly resolved. It is a bleak tale from a bleak land, but an interesting insight into a part of the world I would never have heard of otherwise. Would I go to the end of the earth for love? Possibly - but please, not here!

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...