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« Madame de, by Louise de Vilmorin, translated by Duff Cooper | Main | i wrote a book but it's just the beginning »

Monday, 30 April 2018

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Desperate Reader

I'm so glad you read this (it's another push to make me tackle it again someday). I really love his short stories, in them I can forget the way of life he's so nostalgic for was something a lot of people were happy to leave behind and focus instead on how well he catches the history of Orkney, and the ebb and flow of its year. Anything longer I've tried to read (Greenvoe and this) don't let me ignore his prejudices which I find distracting.

Helen

I do plan on reading his short stories now! I really like the way he writes.

I take your point about the nostalgia, it is there and the way of life is never questioned. In this book I think he avoids it becoming too much by doing two things: first by framing many of the stories as the daydreams of a boy, which the older Thorfinn then dismisses as 'romances' and 'historical thrillers', thus implicitly criticising as being unrealistic and glamourising, and second by describing the violent destruction of the island's community by outsiders, turning the book into a self-conscious lament for a culture that been taken away rather than voluntarily relinquished or adapted.

So, I didn't mind the nostalgia here, but then my experience of Scottish islands is limited to 'Whisky Galore'. For me, it's all a bit magical and strange and unreal anyway, and this book doesn't seem to strive for realism. Someone who actually knows them, like you, can judge it better.

Desperate Reader

I think the rhythm and culture of Island life (at least for Orkney and Shetland, which are distinctly different to the western isles) have survived remarkably well and I can't lament the considerable improvement in living standards and opportunities for islanders. I don't know what GMB would have thought if he'd lived longer. His short stories are excellent and well worth a look, and I love that he is such an Orkney writer as well as such a good one.

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