Big Bird was sitting on my favorite lunchtime-reading bench the other day so I had to keep walking.
I didn’t want to sit down next to him. I thought: What if Big Bird starts talking to me.
You never know what kind of lunatic might be residing inside those feathers.
Instead, I circled around the bend to my second favorite bench. Farther away from the Bird — and the hordes of people clogging other parts of the park.
The view from my second favorite bench is the waterfall:
So it was on my second favorite bench that I finished the novel, Orkney by Amy Sackville, a work of such haunting, atmospheric, literary beauty that I continued thinking about it long after I had turned the final page (or “thumbed” the final e-page). The writing and the story left me mesmerized.
Ostensibly, the novel is about a 60-something professor of literature, taking his sabbatical with the intention of working on his book of enchantment narratives, who falls in love with and marries his intellectually precocious 20-something student. She asks him to take her to the sea for their honeymoon. Thinking himself the luckiest man on earth, he will, of course, do anything for her. He leases a small cottage on Orkney. The two of them nestle into its protective warmth, seemingly, at first, content to sit and watch the inclement weather through their window. Yet, gradually, his mysterious young wife is driven to spend less and less time with him and more time on the cold, misty beach gazing longingly into the turbulent sea.
In the course of my reading, I learned exactly what a “selkie” was (a word which, theretofore, I’d recognized only as the name of an English folk singing group from the 1960s). A selkie (or silkie) is a mythical creature that looks like a seal in water but assumes human form on land…
If that doesn’t whet your appetite to pick up this novel, have a listen to the intro to “Song of the Silkie” by the Scottish folk group, The Corries:
Finally, here are a few lovely writing samples from Sackville’s novel, vis a vis the setting:
“…The wide-winged grey-white birds all about us, soaring over, rising on the air and rounding, crying and dipping for a flash of silver, the bright, crisp sunshine, the shush of the waves, and our blanket between us and the scoured grass.”
“…The sea-mist was thickening, it was getting dark, and cold with the dampness; the masked sun was already setting, casting a squeamish, greenish light through the pewter clouds.”
“…An overcast, lowering sky this morning; the clouds have clotted through the night. Something gathering, brooding, out on the sea. A darkness spreading. The edges of my wife blue against the sky.”
The isles of Scotland (in particular, the Orkneys and the Hebrides) have held me in their thrall for a very long time. As far back as high school, when I listened regularly to the music of singer/songwriter Donovan.
One song of his, Isle of Islay (in the Hebrides), is a favorite of mine. In my imagination, it perfectly captures the essence of the place:
As it happens, Donovan named his daughter, actress Iona Skye, after two isles in the Hebrides. Lucky her!
On the map below, the Orkneys are colored “red” above the northern coast of Scotland, between the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea. The Hebrides are located midway down the west coast, slightly south of the one-short and one-long blue “dashes” of lake dividing the mainland.
It is the remote natural beauty of the Scottish isles that captures my fancy. Reading Sackville’s novel, I was right THERE with her characters. I got to take the much longed-for vacation I’ve dreamed about.
I would wager, if you loved the John Sayles’ film, The Secret of Roan Inish, as I did, you will likely love this novel.
I am now looking forward to reading Sackville’s first novel, The Still Point. She is a writer I intend to follow. A new literary discovery is just so exciting.
Alas, on my way back to work, I spotted a forlorn-looking Big Bird on a gray brick road to nowhere, his break time over and back on the job.