Orkney… a review

To love this book, no, I’ll rephrase that, in order to get beyond the first ten pages of this book, you have to be in love with a place, you have to have talked to the sea at night, and you have to have had an affair with poetry. This is no ordinary book, and if you get through it, you will emerge salty and wet, smelling clammy, and gasping for air; and it will not leave you.

This is the description of the book on the author, Amy Sackville’s website

“On a remote island in Orkney, a curiously-matched couple arrive on their honeymoon. He is an eminent literature professor; she was his pale, enigmatic star pupil. Alone beneath the shifting skies of this untethered landscape, the professor realises how little he knows about his new bride and yet, as the days go by and his mind turns obsessively upon the creature who has so beguiled him, she seems to slip ever further from his yearning grasp. Where does she come from? Why did she ask him to bring her north? What is it that constantly draws her to the sea?”

We never learn of her name, this woman of the sea, but we don’t need to. She is a slippery thing of beauty, one that speaks to the cold sea, the cold sea up at the islands, in the middle of nowhere. They spend ten days in Orkney, their first days together as a couple, in a cottage. As a routine, they eat together, but take turns with the sea alone, mostly. She gazes out into the blue from her perch on the beach, he gazes out at her from the window. And around them, the world melts and disappears, flung at the readers’ face and then gone, like sea spray.

If you know me, you know my love for all things unreal. This is a very unreal book… and unlike Murakami, Marquez, Esquivel; I don’t have to read it in translation, that pleases me. I have just been to the Highlands a couple of weeks ago, and the images of Orkney are raw and sharp-edged, they are too vivid in my head, almost causing pain. The most unusual about the style of writing in the book is the fact that the author’s words (the book is in first person narrative, so in this case, the professor’s words) are never in quotes, but her’s are… only she of the sea can be quoted…

Colours, colours that melt and blend into the sea, that bring me here, that take me away. Cold winds, layers of clothes, the air, heavy brine, salty and wet, like their bodies pressed together. Ten days on a deserted island… 300 odd pages… how much you think, how much could change?

You will know the answer if you have ever loved a poetess, ever felt that she was farthest away when she was closest to you. If you’ve ever played wordgames with the sunset, racing with another to keep at it before the yellow orb dips into the waters, trying to keep up the game, failing… failing and being led, naive, into the sea. Head dips and gasps, sand, water, salt, sting sing sting sing… and up up for air. Poetry in motion…

Quote: Prussian blueInk-washed. Indigo.

Out where the sea meets the sky, a swelling of deep, powdery purple cloud, a band of palest eau-de-nil below, and then the reflection of the cloud again purpling the sea violet. The colour of your birthmark, I say; ‘and my bruises’, she smiles.

7 thoughts on “Orkney… a review

  1. “She is a slippery thing of beauty”
    “racing with another to keep at it before the yellow orb dips into the waters”
    “The colour of your birthmark, I say; ‘and my bruises’, she smiles.”

    Ah! The reviews that make one want to read a book without even liking the topics covered 🙂 A great review–a delight in itself, to read.

  2. I’ve seen it criticised for repetition, what do you think about that?

    Still, you make a good case for it, which is welcome since I own a copy that I haven’t read yet.

    I do want to visit the Orkneys. Still surprisingly hard to get to though.

    • I’m guilty of being attracted to verbose writing. She does it over and over again. But people, like her characters, who love words do it all the time. So if purple is violet and mauve and regal and lilac-tinged-magenta, I like it on paper. Each of those phrases puts a different image in my head.
      Sadly, though, Orkney is awfully far from everywhere. That’s the bane, that’s the magic!

  3. Came here from your reference on my post-and you have sold the book to me. I will get hold of a copy. And being a lover of Orkney itself, I will make the connections as I lose myself within the pages. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

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